We Ignore the Voices from Canada’s Rapidly Changing Arctic At Our Peril

Yesterday the documentary Arctic Re-Imagined aired on CBC Radio’s “The Current”. In it, journalist Chris Wodskou explores what it means for Canada to be an Arctic nation in a time of dramatic climate changes in the far north.

One of the voices featured in the half-hour documentary is that of  Zacharias Kunuk, award-winning director whose films include Atarnarjuat: The Fast Runner. Kunuk was born in Kapuivik in Nunavut, 200 miles north of the Arctic Circle. Here are some of his reflections, from Arctic Re-Imagined, on the changes that are happening in real-time for the Inuit who inhabit the far north:

“The ice used to be so thick in springtime when we were hunting for seals. Now, it’s like everything is a month early and a month later in fall before freeze-up.”

“We used to have a lot of multi-year ice. Now we only have first year ice; the heat – what we’re noticing – most of the hunters think it’s coming from the sea. What the elders are noticing the most is the sun doesn’t rise where it used to.”

This change in the appearance of the sun is an unexpected aspect of climate change. When air that is warmer than before blankets a still-cold landscape there are changes in the refraction of the sun’s rays, bending the sun’s light in different ways.  Keep in mind that the high Arctic is plunged into darkness when the sun disappears in December and only starts to reappear weeks later in the middle of January. With only an hour or so of “day glow” each day, the Inuit are keenly appreciative and aware of the sun when it does appear.

“…In the second week of January the sun starts to arrive over the horizon . And the elders noticed, because they are always observing the environment, they’ve noticed  that it had shifted to the right from where it used to rise. They are saying the sun is a lot higher in the summertime…”

“Even in the high Arctic one of the hunters was telling me in the 1950s they used to have one hour of day glow in the winter. Now they have two hours. So you think the world really tilted.”

“We still use the old techniques [of predicting weather], and add new ones. Climate change…well, you notice it. We have to adapt to it, have to change our routes, our travel routes.”

“We are already noticing this last summer due to climate change there’s more fresh water on top of the salt water. Because in the summertime when we shoot seals they float and we just pick them up.  For the past two years, we’ve been noticing seals that we shoot have been sinking when they’re not supposed to…”

To listen to the entire documentary, click here and scroll down to the bottom of the page and click on “Listen to Part 3”.  Click here for Canadian Inuit activist Sheila Watt-Cloutier’s message on 350.org, and here to read the Inuit Call to Global Leaders: Act Now on Climate Change (give the pdf a few minutes to load).

Click here for actions you can take to make a difference on climate change.

Inuksuk Point (Inuksugalait, “where there are many Inuksuit“), Foxe Peninsula (Baffin Island), Nunavut, Canada. Photo by Ansgar Walk

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