Hand-out 3: Native Arctic peoples’ observations

Note: Many different groups of indigenous (native) people live in the circumpolar (Arctic) region. Climate change affects each area in unique ways. Because of this, people living in one region of the Arctic may experience different climate-related changes than people living in other regions or communities.

Native people from across Alaska and Canada delivered a petition to the Inter American Commission on Human Rights. The petition seeks to draw attention to the climate change-related impacts to the lives of people living in the circumpolar (Arctic) region. The petition included observations from community members. Selections are reprinted below:

“One of my sons…was going to visit the next crew…and he fell right through the ice half-way out to that camp. I’ve seen my fellow whalers trying to go whaling break through the ice, because it’s melting from the bottom, and our snow machines have fallen through the ice.” Ronald Brower, Barrow, Alaska

“You need thick ice for the weight of the whale to bring it up. You need at least six feet of solid ice to bring up a whale. When it’s like three, four feet, especially if somebody got a bigger whale, it’s going to keep breaking up. And that reflects on the sizes of the whale that we catch, too. More so, we’re trying to catch smaller whales, which are much easier to pull op on the ice. That means that we’re getting a smaller share of the whales and with a quota of 22, the smaller the whale, the less [meat] the people get.” Roy Nageak, Barrow, Alaska

“When I was younger, there was more ice….The seals, you had time, you had the whole summer to hunt, you had June and July…” Roy, Nageak, Barrow, Alaska

“The snow is not the same anymore. The bottom of the snow is a lot softer than it used to be. It’s no good for igloos anymore. [Twenty years ago] we used to be able to stop anywhere we needed a place to sleep just to build an igloo and sleep in that igloo. And nowadays you can’t just find good snow anywhere. In [those] days we used to find them anywhere. The condition of the snow is not very good…not only on the bottom but on the top as well.” Lucas Ittulak, Nain, Newfoundland, Canada

“We were driving our skidoo in the Spring—early Spring—normal, I mean we knew that some areas were dangerous. We know what spots to look out for, like black spots versus ice pans, or whatever…We stopped the skidoos and we waited for my brother and his wife to come up and join us. And as we were waiting, we no sooner stopped the skidoo and were just about to start our skidoos again when the ice just collapsed underneath the skidoo and the skidoo went through the ice. And so my son fell in the water. My husband jumped off and just missed going into the water. But he fell in the water. And it just crumbled all the way. So we hadn’t realized that it was a black area, because there was, well, a bit of snow on top which made it look white I guess. But, we hadn’t realized that it was soft underneath. Anyway, we got him out and he was alright. He just got pretty shook up because he couldn’t climb out. Every time he tried to climb out it would break off. And it would just crumble under his hands. So we managed to get him out But, we noticed that that area, which never is like that—[the ice] usually lasts quite awhile and just breaks up into pans and melts away.” Heather Angnatok, Nain, Newfoundland, Canada

“[On the ] overlapping of the ice packs is where polar bears normally have their hunting grounds. Because the sea ice isn’t formed the way it used to be that the polar bears are coming closer, This is why we now have polar bears in the community even before the dark season would start to come. It used to be that when it would start to get dark at night the polar bears would start to come this way, but now they’re always around.” Tsa Piubgituq, Clyde River, Baffin Island, Nunavut, Canada

“I can talk about the permafrost because I’ve got two ice cellars that I see where the changes are. They’re no longer cold like they used to be. It’s melting. The heat is going into the ground… So, natural ice cellars are warming up…the food you stored there is going to be no longer good to eat. They’re gong to get rancid, and they’re going to spoil….And that’s already happening….I had to go out and buy some chest freezers to try and protect [the meat] from rotting…” Eugene Brower, Barrow, Alaska

“[The ice] normally saved our beach from eroding so much more—the ice that buffers the waves. Nowadays…we don’t have ice to protect our beaches anymore. Waves and storms are becoming more frequent, sometimes [we lose] fifteen feet [of shore] at a time. So if there’s two or three storms, it could be fifteen feet three times. That’s how much land we would lose…” John Sinnok, Shishmaref, Alaska

“My mom, before she died, used to go picking greens with us girls. We used to fill up maybe four barrels to keep for the winter and she taught us how to pack them and keep them for the winter. I can now only fill up one barrel each summer…In late June, we waited for greens to be ready to be picked but I noticed that we are starting kind of early this year because they grow up and then from too much sun and heat, they wither very fast…” Rosemond Martin, Savoonga, Alaska

“The vegetation is different. Caribous are not getting fatter quicker than they used to be. Right now, when you go out here and get a caribou, they’re not fat anymore. It’s almost the end of August, but when you go back thirty years by this time they should be well-fed and well fat.” Ben Kovic, Iqaluit, Nunavut, Canada

“Things have changed so much it is hard to rely on what you knew traditionally anymore. What happened years ago is different than what it is today…You may ask an expert what his knowledge is but his knowledge is not going to apply to what is happening today. For example an elder might say by November 1 you are able to cross this area, it is now safe to cross this lake, but according to the way things are today, it may not be the case.” Inuit elder from Baker Lake, Nunavut, Canada

“Traditionally when we do the caribou caching—this is where we would put away the meat to pick up later in the winter—we would start our caribou caching in August—the middle of August. It was safe to start your caribou caching, but now it is just too warm. Either the meat is just going to rot, or the maggots are there…[T]he month of August is very important traditionally. It has always been an important part of the summer. This is when they collect skins for clothing, and at the same time they do their caribou caching. Now people do most of their caribou caching in September. Even by the second week of September they are dong their caribou caching. Inuit were very selective of when to cache the meat, because of the taste and the whole thing…” Baker Lake, Nunavut, Canada

“The skins that we do prepare are sometimes too dry now because of the climate change. In the old days, it never used to be like so. We even have to dry them now in the shade away from the sun because when you dry them out in the sun, they become too dry or very easy to tear, especially the seal skins.” Annie Napayok, Whale Cove, Nunavut, Canada

“Lakes that have never dried, especially by our drying racks, that lake I don’t remember ever drying up, but it’s been drying up every year the last few years. The lakes around our camp, which we used to use for waste water, there’s hardly any water, and the water is so brown now, we don’t use it for drinking and hardly even for waste water.” John Sinnok of Shishmaref, Alaska

“There’s a lot of anxieties and angers that are being felt by some of the hunters that no longer can go and hunt, We see the change, but we can’t stop it, we can’t explain why it’s changing it…our way of life is changing up here, our ocean is changing….I think it is widely felt, because you can feel it further from the folks that live in the villages outside of Barrow, where they do a lot of subsistence hunting.” Eugene Brower, Barrow, Alaska

Source: Watt-Coultier, S., & The Inuit Circumpolar Conference, et al. (2005) Petition to the Inter American Commission on Human Rights Seeking Relief from Violations Resulting from Global Warming…. http://www.inuitcircumpolar.com/index.php?ID=316&Lang=En


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