Ice research project brings Alaska and Baffin together
Unique exchange combines scientific, traditional knowledge from two corners of circumpolar world
An international group that included Ilkoo Angutikjuak and Geela Tigullaraq of Clyde River were in Barrow, Alaska last month as part of a unique research project funded by the U.S. National Science Foundation.
By combining scientific and traditional knowledge from two corners of the circumpolar world, the Sea Ice Knowledge Exchange Project wants to better understand changes in Arctic sea ice.
While they were in Barrow, Angutikjuak and Tigullaraq linked up with Inupiat Warren Matumiak, Darlene Matumiak Kagak and Joe Leavitt, their Alaskan counterparts; as well as researchers Henry Huntington and Jim Maslanik.
Out on the ice, Angutikjuak and Leavitt were keen to exchange observations, stories and safety tips about sea ice, while scientists contributed their observations from experiments and fieldwork.
“The whole key is just being on the ice. You can sit around a table and talk about it, but out there, everyone could relate to it,” says Canadian researcher Shari Fox.
Fox says the sea ice itself was also a “research partner” as everyone stopped to touch, taste, kick, climb, dig and chip away at various parts of it in order to share different views about how sea ice works and how it’s changing.
“Barrow’s ice is very similar to Clyde River’s ice,” say Angutikjuak and Tigullaraq. “In Clyde River, the ice is different year to year, but there have been some very unusual conditions in recent years, like thinner ice in places and changes in break-up and freeze-up timing. We have to be careful. It seems that Barrow is having some changes too.”
For Angutikjuak and Tigullaraq, it was a great privilege to go to Barrow, “an adventure in itself.”
“We felt a sense of belonging because our lifestyles are so similar. It’s just our language that is a little bit different. Their language was interesting because we understand a lot of their words, but the same word would have a different meaning to them than to us,” the two say. “In Clyde River, everyone speaks our native language, Inuktitut, but the Inupiat seem to be losing their language. The younger people speak only English and that was sad to see.”
Tigullaraq brought along videos of her family which showed her kids speaking fluent Inuktitut- much to the amazement of many Inupiat.
“My kids were playing in the room,” Tigullaraq says. “There was a big crowd behind me. Everybody kept on saying, ‘come see, little kids speaking Eskimo!'”
During an elder-youth conference in Barrow, Angutikjuak demonstrated how Inuit from Baffin skin a seal. He helped to teach some Inupiat youth about how he did it, while others looked on and discussed the similarities and differences in the way Nunavummiut and Inupiat skin seals, what parts they eat and how and when they eat it.
In June, the Alaskans will be coming to Clyde River. A trip to the floe edge, a community feast, square dance and a meeting with elders are among the activities planned for their visit.
While the climate changes the Alaskan region faces are severe, the same may be in store for Nunavut, says Fox.
Because the ways Inuit in both regions are affected by and cope with variations and changes in sea ice are very complex, she says this is pushing researchers like herself to consider alternative ways of recording and understanding local knowledge.
For the past 10 years, Fox, now a postdoctoral fellow at Harvard University in Boston, has been involved in several research projects in Nunavut. She collaborated with the communities of Baker Lake and Clyde River on a recently released CD-rom called When the Weather is Uggianaqtuq: Inuit Observations of Environmental Change.
Uggianaqtuq is a North Baffin word that means to behave unexpectedly, or in an unfamiliar way, something weather is doing now more than ever.
The interactive, multi-media CD includes photos, detailed maps and film bites of both communities and many of their residents.
In one interview, you can see and hear Angutikjuak, speaking in Inuktitut, as he tells how the ice in Clyde River now firms in November instead of October as it used to. A translation of his words appears in a small box as he speaks.
Fox says elders were especially interested in this CD because it will be an educational tool for youth and students to learn about Inuit knowledge and observations of the environment.
To read more about this project or to order a copy of the CD, free of charge, visit http://nsidc.org, or email firstname.lastname@example.org.