Coping with climate change

Arctic Bay residents prepare for the big melt


Arctic Bay residents say they need better land skills camps for youth, improved gas subsidies and better insurance programs for hunters to cope with climate change.

The signs of change are everywhere in Arctic Bay, said Mishak Allurut, who, along with Kik Shappa, assisted James Ford of McGill University with a research project called “Living with change in Arctic Bay.”

“The main thing people were concerned about is the early melt of the ice,” Allurut said.

In Arctic Bay, polynas of open water still lie hidden under the snow even in mid-winter. This year, the ice didn’t freeze up until mid-November, and, without ice to travel over for hunting, the community was short of fresh food. Hunters still haven’t been able to travel to Devon Island to hunt muskoxen as they usually do.

Danger is also part of this new unpredictable environment in Arctic Bay.

“The wind, it picks up without any warning,” Allurut said. “The wind comes in first, and then you see clouds. It used to be the other way around.”

An extreme example of this phenomenon occurred at the floe edge near Arctic Bay in June 2000.

More than 50 hunters were caught by surprise in Admiralty Inlet when a strong wind from the south detached the ice they were on and they went floating away. They had to be rescued by helicopter, losing most of their equipment in the airlift.

“Living with change in Arctic Bay” concludes that Inuit are managing these changes, by extra preparation, avoiding certain areas, use of new technology, sharing and accepting change.

Residents in Arctic Bay suggested various actions to help, including increasing subsidies for supplies, developing of safety equipment such as floatation devices for snowmobiles, and teaching of basic survival skills.

Similar research from Igloolik, also undertaken by Ford with the assistance of Kevin Qrunnut, highlighted different challenges due to climate change, mainly linked to changes in sea ice formation around the community.

Interviews with Iglulingmiut produced similar recommendations for action, but also included a call for the construction of a bridge to lead to the mainland so hunters wouldn’t have to travel over the ice.

People in Arctic Bay and Igloolik both asked for land skills programs to reduce vulnerability to future climate change.

Studies have also shown a link between these kinds of cultural programs and greater engagement with the community and reduced suicide risk among youth aged 15 to 25.

This week, researchers associated with Ford were in Arctic Bay working with a group called Nunavut Youth Consulting, to see what young people think about climate change and what can be done to help them adapt.

In Arctic Bay and Igloolik, research found climate change is challenging Inuit knowledge and understanding of the environment, specifically the ability to evaluate risks.

And new technology isn’t always the answer.

That’s because technology and lifestyle changes has altered hunting behaviour, creating additional new risks. These days, there’s less time for hunters who are also working nine-to-five jobs, so they head out on the weekends, no matter what the weather conditions are, sometimes driving too quickly, using GPS devices, but with fewer land skills to rely on as a back-up.

Quotas on hunts, also designed to deal with climate change’s impact on some species, like polar bears, have also created new pressures on hunting and risks for hunters, Ford said. This is because quotas can change the timing and location of harvests.

“The timing of the narwhal migration into Arctic Bay, for instance, could be delayed so that the floe-edge ice hunt is no longer possible,” said Ford in “Reducing vulnerability to climate change the Arctic: The case of Nunavut.”

Based on his research in Arctic Bay and Igloolik, Ford produced policy suggestions for how Nunavut can tackle climate change. These may be incorporated in the GN’s forthcoming climate change adaptation strategy.

To date, most government policy on climate has focused on reducing greenhouse gas emissions.

But Ford suggests integrating climate change policy into a wide range of government programs, such as wildlife management, harvester support, education and community economic development to create jobs and eliminate poverty.

“To tackle climate change, you have to tackle these fundamental issues such as lack of culture, lack of language, lack of hunting skills,” Ford said.

Strengthening of financial support from Nunavut and Inuit organizations is required to meet these needs, he said: “This falls within their mandate.”

“To address climate change, especially at the community level, the best thing we can do is to strengthen overall community well-being, not just focusing on climate change specifically,” Ford said.

Later this year, with support from federal money for International Polar Year research, Ford is planning to start a study on how people are responding to climate change in Iqaluit.

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