Ashley Cummings will be speaking about Inuit perspectives on climate change at Climate Justice World Forum on Sept. 21-23. (Photo courtesy of Ashley Cummings)

Inuk activist to address climate change at international gathering

Ashley Cummings to speak at Climate Justice World Forum

By David Lochead

To tell the story of climate change for Inuit, Ashley Cummings uses the example of moss on a rock in Nunavut in the springtime. The moss is ripped off the rock, either by a person or increasing heat.

“Inuit are that moss, delicately clinging to that rock,” said Cummings, a 23-year-old Yukon University student.

Cummings said she is frustrated. Whether it is melting permafrost breaking bridges in her hometown of Pangnirtung or fellow Inuit not being able to use trails across melting ice in the spring, Cummings said her people’s voices are not being heard on climate change.

That frustration is why Cummings will be speaking at the second annual Climate Justice World Forum between Sept. 21-23, to be held in Glasgow, Scotland, though people will participants attend it as a virtual event. The event will be dedicated to exploring ideas to address climate change in a way that is sustainable to those who are the most affected by the phenomenon.

Cummings said she will be there to speak about Inuit perspectives on climate change and help address the lack of Inuit voices in the global conversation on how to address the warming planet.

“Climate change has impacted our culture and the way we live our lives,” Cummings said in an interview.

Other speakers include well-known global figures such as World Health Organization director-general Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus and former executive director of Greenpeace International Kumi Naidoo.

International conferences tend to focus on climate change mostly through a scientific lens, Cummings said, and that needs to change.

“The North is such an ignored part of climate change, other than the ice or the icecaps,” Cummings said.

“What about the people?”

While science is useful for addressing climate change, Cummings said Inuit Qauijimajatuqangit, or traditional Inuit knowledge, is not often considered. Through IQ principles and other practices that encourage being on the land, Inuit have built generations of knowledge on how the planet works, Cummings said.

“It’s not technically scientific or peer-reviewed but it’s still just as valid,” Cummings said.

In previous conferences Cummings has spoken, she said that she felt like the token Inuk invited because she only had a small role in panels.

At the Climate Justice World Forum, Cummings said she expects that to change, as she will be one of the featured speakers at the event.

Cummings grew up in Pangnirtung and moved to Nova Scotia at the age of 12. Her desire to fight for Inuit causes began when she realized how uncommon child suicide was in Nova Scotia compared to Nunavut and that her mother was a survivor of a residential school.

That self-awareness was channelled to activism after attending a summer camp that encouraged her to get out of her comfort zone. As someone who was shy, that meant public speaking. But once her fellow campers encouraged her to speak, it became her strength.

“It felt like all that fear left,” Cummings said.

Since then, Cummings has been a speaker for Connected North, a program for connecting Indigenous communities in the North, and the Arctic Circle assembly. Cummings was also a speechwriter for the Yukon NDP earlier this year. She is currently a student at Yukon University studying Indigenous governance.

While the task of fighting for climate justice and representation of Inuit voices is challenging, Cummings said there are pathways to address these obstacles.

She lists the Inuit Circumpolar Council as a good resource for climate advocacy.

But there is an urgency to addressing climate change, Cummings said, and there is a need to lift Inuit voices in a way that is respectful but bold.

“We need to take advantage of using our voices, using what we see and use that tenacity,” Cummings said.

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(18) Comments:

  1. Posted by No Moniker on

    I am curious what Cummings is referring to specifically when she says that through IQ “Inuit have built generations of knowledge on how the planet works.”

    As I see it Inuit occupy a very specific ecological niche, and Inuit knowledge is a masterful compendium on survival in that extremely difficult environment. Yet, nothing about that, or nothing I can see about TK or IQ suggests any specific kind of knowledge about broader planetary ecosystems outside this niche—at least in a way that would contribute to new discoveries about how the planet works. For example; what can IQ tell us about the thermohaline current or ocean acidification? What can it tell us about the carbon cycle?

    All that said, I admit my understandings of IQ are limited. If you think I am missing something I would be grateful to hear from you.

    Here is a problem I see in this discourse. As an Inuk, or the member of any indigenous group, it seems that when young people are encouraged to “use their voice” they are really being told to use their identity which, it is subtly suggested, carries a special kind of moral authority. But is there anything about invoking special connections to the land, the past, or one’s ethnicity that can tells us anything about climate change, beyond local impacts?

    If we truly want Inuit voices herd on climate change lets encourage our children to become experts, conversant in climate science, not token representations of the impacts on a vulnerable group. To say that Inuit have not be heard on climate change (which is not a believable claim to me), and that they need a more prominent place in the conversation seems to admit to the limits on the use of identity at the higher levels of the conversation where the science is done.

    Of course, local, human impacts matter, but discussions around those issues are limited in their capacity to lay out the serious pathways to change.

    Again, if you disagree with this assessment, I would like to hear from you.

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    • Posted by Raven on

      Take a step back, learn the language and listen to endless archive audio files and you’ll learn a bit about a lot.

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    • Posted by josywales on

      Typical Kabloonak sounding commenter, who is basically saying Indigenous people are animals who do not know anything, just like when they first came across the Atlantic creating problems for the Americas whose people were in harmony with their world.

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      • Posted by RU Serious? on

        Is this satire, Josy?

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  2. Posted by Cold island bear on

    Kinda sounds like she has mistaken changing seasons with climate change.
    There are more platforms now for inuit to voice their concerns. Starting to see more sponsored stuff of facebook asking for people in the norths opinion, if ica find the link ill share it here.
    The north is slowly moving south and where nunavut is will be around the equator. Millions lf years but it is happening. Lol
    After this summer in the north more people have seen a change on weather and seems like facebook is already reading into that.
    Good for her though, maybe she can speed up the process but also that moss doesnt only grow on rocks and rocks can sink LOL

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  3. Posted by Fake Chinese Rubber Plant on

    It is suggested that through IQ “Inuit have built generations of knowledge on how the planet works.”

    That’s simply not true.

    Inuit occupy a very particular, and extreme ecological niche, and are masters at survival within it. Does not make Inuit traditional knowledge a source of information of how the planetary ecosystem works? I don’t see how it would. What am I missing?

    Here is a problem I see in this discourse. As an Inuk, or the member of any indigenous group, it seems that when young people are encouraged to “use their voice” they are really being told to use their identity which, it is subtly suggested, carries a special kind of moral authority. But is there anything about invoking special connections to the land, the past, or one’s ethnicity that can tells us anything about climate change, beyond local impacts?

    If we truly want Inuit voices herd on climate change lets encourage our children to become experts, conversant in climate science, not just representations of the impacts on a vulnerable group. To say that Inuit have not be heard on climate change, and that they need a more prominent place in the conversation seems to admit to the limits on the use of identity at the higher levels of the conversation where the science is done and where policy is made.

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  4. Posted by Qallunnaat qaujimajatuqangit on

    It is amazing how Qallunaat and western world conference organizers select speakers who are of an indigenous origin. This young inuk may have been a child in the north but is not a knowledgeable person on the environment, climate, animals, weather and all its patterns and behaviours. Qallunaat qaujimajatuqangit at its glory. Even the newspaper and how it writes about these topics is often so shallow.

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    • Posted by Ocean Size on

      You nailed this and I wish more Inuit would notice this and speak up about it.

      In the article Ashley complains about tokenism, which is undoubtably true, yet it is exactly what she has been set up for, probably by some well meaning qallunaat professor intoxicated on the opportunity to do something radical like “amplify a marginalized voice” … our local media is drunk under the same spell.

      In the end if that voice doesn’t know much about the science of climate change, in fact that voice thinks science is, you know, a little superfluous and can be swapped out for (let me guess) ‘lived experience’ what insights are we seriously expecting to hear? It’s a performance driven by people who believe there is more value in identity and emotion than in the science. Where is that going to take us? And where is it going to take these young people who they are using as their props?

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    • Posted by Nunavut needs better on

      “Even the newspaper and how it writes about these topics is often so shallow.”

      The inability of most media today to discuss issues in ways that acknowledge and capture their complexity is a serious challenge we face as a civilization.

      Granted, there are more serious attempts being made in the world than we see here, but as you might expect these are less popular and at times even less accessible, especially if you are less educated and less able to understand the kinds of language and concepts that are used.

      That said, I think there is plenty of room for improvement within the information ecosystem fostered by this publication. Simply put, we need better sense making and better conversations in our public sphere than we are currently having.

  5. Posted by Whoa thar on

    Becoming involved and active is the more important thing for youth. Harsh criticisms from more older people does more to reflect on them the older folk than it does on the youth. Live and learn, do not be discouraged.

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    • Posted by Les Paul on

      Being active is a good thing, but the bar needs to be set a little higher than just showing up.

      Do you think the criticism above too harsh? I don’t see any personal attacks or cheap shots. We can learn and become much better from constructive criticisms, if we chose too.

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    • Posted by iThink on

      There needs to be space in the realm of ideas to push back against things that are misleading or false. We also need to prepare our young aspiring leaders for the inevitably that their ideas will not always meet with agreement, let alone unconditional acceptance.

      To disagree or to point out the problems with an argument is to participate in a dialectic process designed to make our ideas better. If that is not the purpose of education what is?

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  6. Posted by monthy sling on

    we have pass the point of no return…it has taken 100 short yrs to this point, our grand children and great grand children are in for a rough ride because of greed.

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  7. Posted by Icc? on

    I’m curious what ICC has actually achieved on this (or really any) issue other than showing up at COP events and recycling 30 year old talking points about Inuit knowledge. Arctic Slope Regional Corporation and NANA Regional Corporation are ICC-Alaska’s main benefactors, sit on the ICC-Alaska board and contract with oil companies and support continued oil extraction. ASRC actually left the Alaska Federation of Natives because it did not support a resolution passed by that organization supporting climate action.

    https://www.alaskapublic.org/2019/12/13/arctic-slope-regional-corporation-to-leave-the-alaska-federation-of-natives/

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  8. Posted by articrick on

    I don’t like being compared to a piece of Moss laying on top of a rock, but during hot summer days, I like to lay flat on a flat piece of rock to soak up the sun.lol

  9. Posted by Kalak on

    All though this is good, and I believe her intensions are pure, in order to truly make an impact on a bigger scale, all inuit have to unite and speak with one voice. I think this is where our stories can be useful, if indeed we are to use other voices instead of science and peer review.

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  10. Posted by GoAshley on

    I for one am incredibly proud of Ashley! I think some people are so focused on pointing out the deficiencies in using a young Inuk as a representative, that they have lost sight of the fact that she is a role model for youth in the North. Ashley was born and raised in the North, has pursued higher education, volunteered and advocated for the things that she is passionate about, and has been actively finding ways to enrich her cultural understanding and identity her whole life. She way be young, but everyone has to start somewhere. Let’s give her some credit where it’s due.

    Keep it up Ashley, there are so many of us that are incredibly proud of you!

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    • Posted by Point missed on

      Except no one is pointing out the deficiencies in using a young Inuk as a representative. This is a misleading thing to say.

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