The Native Perspective, Episode 2: Inuit

The Native Perspective is a Food Circle project that discusses taking urgent climate change action in order to protect indigenous peoples who depend on their natural environments for survival, food, shelter, and to maintain their cultural identity. Because climate change affects those who rely on nature the most, it is crucial to support indigenous communities worldwide which in turn ensures the preservation of ecosystems, as indigenous peoples have developed a balanced rapport with their natural surroundings and there is much knowledge to be gained from their lifestyles for more sustainable living. The dialogue also draws talking points from ecocriticism; it examines people’s attitudes towards nature, and indigenous studies; centering and elevating the voices of different indigenous cultures and promoting their experiences. This is made possible thanks to Sapient, the mother company of Food Circle, which every year offers internships to students from all around the world, creating a uniquely multicultural environment.



Who Are the Inuit?


Deep in the Arctic and sub-Arctic region of northern Canada, Alaska, and Greenland lives an indigenous group of people whose civilization has existed and been maintained for centuries. The Inuit are a part of three distinct indigenous peoples who live in Canada, which include First Nations and Métis. The global Inuit population is estimated to be more than 160,000, [1] with around 60,000 living in Canada where they occupy mostly remote communities in the northern regions together called Inuit Nunangat, meaning “the land where Inuit live.” The regions are made up of 4 territories: Inuvialuit, Nunavik, Nunatsiavut, and Nunavut. [2]


The Inuit language is called Inkutitut, with various dialects spoken across regions. Inuit means “people,” and is used to refer to a group of three or more, while Inuk is the singular form. As indigenous people, Inuit have learned to cohabit with their natural environment to survive. Counting on elders’ expertise, natural resources, and inventive tools, they have been able to successfully preserve their lifestyle and culture by passing down knowledge from generation to generation. These communities rely almost entirely on hunting and fishing for sustenance. Animals such as arctic fish, aquatic birds, seals, whales, walruses, and caribou make up the majority of the Inuit diet. Additionally, many tools, boats (kayak), clothes (including coats and water-proof boots), and shelter are constructed from animal skin, thus fully utilizing a catch and not allowing any room to waste precious resources and the hard work that went into obtaining them. [3]



Colonization and Social Hardships


The late 15th century marked the alleged discovery of the American continent by European explorers. Like many indigenous peoples in North America, Inuit and other Arctic groups initially had a trade relationship with the European settlers, trading meat and fur for goods, an arrangement that lasted nearly three centuries. However, during the industrial revolution, the fur trade started to diminish due to the emergence of new and cheaper fabric and the mining of gold and coal. As a result, European powers sought to expand their settlements in the continent, breaking the agreeable and balanced relationship with the indigenous communities. [4]


With the expansion, colonial rule ensued. The settlers aimed to efface indigenous culture in several ways. Residential schools were highly religious establishments that emerged as a method to separate indigenous children from their communities and educate them in European customs in the hopes that they would renounce the heritage and traditions of their families. [5] Another way was outlawing indigenous culture by banning “traditional ceremonies, including the sun dance and, in particular, the potlatch.” [6]



The Climate Issue


The global Inuit population has noticed changes in their natural environments due to global warming. In 2000, a video was displayed to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) showed community hunters and elders reporting on “melting permafrost, resulting in beach slumping and lake erosions; increased snowfalls; longer sea ice-free seasons; emerging or invasive new species of birds, fish and insects … near the community … and a general warming trend.” [7] The Arctic is warming nearly twice as fast as the rest of the globe. [8] This means that vital resources that the Inuit rely on are threatened. [9] The native animals, such as polar bears and beluga whales, are at risk of extinction. [10]


What’s more, Inuit hunting and trapping practices are becoming progressively difficult and dangerous to carry out because of the unreliable changes in the climate and natural surroundings. A 2021 study, for example, showed that hunting bearded seals, which is usually done during the spring, ended three weeks earlier in 2019 than it did in 2003. [11] This makes passing knowledge on weather predictability and hunting down to the younger Inuit generation much more challenging and complicated. [12] The Inuit have also been increasingly relying on store-bought foods, which are more expensive and unhealthy. These resulting issues could further cause severe loss in indigenous knowledge, culture, and lifestyle, if climate change continues to go unchecked. [13]



Research and Adaptability


The Inuit are a highly adaptable people. Indeed, it is one their most prominent features. Their culture is “‘all about continually seeking solutions … and so in the face of climate change, the requirement that [they] train youth to continually seek solutions becomes paramount.’” [14] Inuit are constantly seeking ways in which to sustain themselves and their communities as hunting becomes more difficult; for example, beginning the hunts earlier. [15] Also, the government of Nunavut has introduced climate change initiatives that focus on adaptation at the community level. It has partnered with stakeholders to further the research on climate change as well as projects like the Atuliqtuq, which means “coming into force,” that aims to “build capacity for climate change adaptation planning … develop tools to collect, publish, share and communicate climate change adaptation knowledge … [and] create scientific information that is regionally and locally targeted to help communities adapt to climate change.” [16]


Inuit have and continue to show an incredible amount of resourcefulness, resilience, and an adaptability that is inspiring. Since climate change is affecting the Arctic at a faster rate, climate action has become an urgent matter, not only so the Inuit could preserve their culture, traditions, and heritage, but equally so the rest of the world could receive valuable knowledge on how to adapt and protect natural environments worldwide.



Author: Rima Qayed

 

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References

  1. Microsoft Word - FORD ET AL_GEC 2009.docx (unisdr.org)

  2. Inuit (rcaanc-cirnac.gc.ca)

  3. The Inuit | Facing History and Ourselves

  4. Colonization | Facing History and Ourselves

  5. Legislation for the Residential Schools | Facing History and Ourselves

  6. Banning Indigenous Culture | Facing History and Ourselves

  7. Climate Change In The Arctic: An Inuit Reality | United Nations

  8. Climate explained: why is the Arctic warming faster than other parts of the world? - International Science Council

  9. Government of Canada supports Inuit-led climate change strategy - Canada.ca

  10. 11 Arctic species affected by climate change | WWF

  11. Co-production of knowledge reveals loss of Indigenous hunting opportunities in the face of accelerating Arctic climate change - IOPscience

  12. Climate Change Impacts | Nunavut Climate Change Centre (climatechangenunavut.ca)

  13. 'Sea, ice, snow ... it’s all changing': Inuit struggle with warming world | Canada | The Guardian

  14. The Inuit knowledge vanishing with the ice - BBC Future

  15. Inuit Observations of Climate Change | PBS LearningMedia

  16. 3154-315_climate_english_reduced_size_1_0.pdf (climatechangenunavut.ca)

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