Many small voices make loud noise in Montreal

Inuit contribute to living demonstration of climate change


MONTREAL — Mattiusi Iyaituk from Ivujivik usually carves in stone or bone, but last week he found himself in an industrial freezer on the West Island of Montreal, surrounded by frozen food. There, armed with carving tools, a mallet, an electric grinder, and a chainsaw, Iyaituk transformed four 230-pound blocks of ice into a polar bear.

The “sweating polar bear,” the centrepiece of Arctic Day’s northern display, was intended to become smoother and shinier as it melted: a tabletop symbol for the impact of global warming in the Arctic.

So it was that Arctic Day provided a living demonstration of the best of the Arctic, to show what may be lost as climate change alters the environment and changes peoples’ lives.

“I hope you can come and visit while we still have an Arctic,” Pita Aatami, president of the Makivik Corporation, told a mixed crowd that included conference delegates.

For one day during the 10-day United Nations Climate Change Conference, the sights, sounds and good tastes of the Arctic were on display in Montreal. Arctic Day, part of the Canada’s World of Solutions activities, featured the Mackenzie Delta drummers and dancers, throat-singers Sarah Beaulne and Akinisie Sivuarapik of Nunavik, a sealskin fashion show, samples of Arctic char and caribou, Inuit games by students from Nunavut Sivuniksavut as well as storytelling and crafts demonstrations.

Stéphane Dion, the federal minister of the environment, said he wanted to bring the Arctic to the conference for Arctic Day because it wasn’t possible to hold the mammoth climate change meeting there.

Many Inuit, First Nations and other indigenous circumpolar peoples were on hand.

Elder Jamesie Mike, a longtime fisherman from Pangnirtung, talked about the unusual warming and unpredictable weather he has recently witnessed around Cumberland Sound.

“We are not in control of the Earth. We don’t know if it’s going to get cold or not,” Mike said.

Meeka Mike, his daughter and an outfitter in Iqaluit, also offered her own example of traditional knowledge, describing how Inuit have a different way of looking at tides than western science does, based on another understanding of cycles of the moon.

“Our new moon is your old moon,” she explained.

Paul Kaludjak, the president of Nunavut Tunngavik Inc., also emphasized traditional knowledge. Kaludjak urged more respect for Inuit Qaujimajatuqangit, better communication between scientists and Inuit, and increased involvement of Nunavummiut in climate change research and policy. The joint NTI-Nunavut glossary of climate change terms released at the conference is a step in that direction, he said.

Youth also shared their hopes. Before coming to Montreal, youth in the Arctic were invited to take a copy of their draft Arctic Youth Declaration and tape a reading of it.

Submissions were edited into a final video. About 100 young members of the Arctic Youth Network traveled to Montreal to present the video presentation of the declaration during Arctic Day: “Protect the Arctic and you protect the world.”

Arctic Day also inaugurated a new link between the Arctic and other parts of the world that are also affected by climate change.

A project from United Nations Environment Program’s polar centre, GRID Arendal in Norway, called “Many Small Voices,” will build bridges between vulnerable Arctic communities and those of small island developing states whose future is in danger due to rising sea levels.

“The peoples of the Arctic and the small islands of this world face many of the same threats as a result of climbing global temperatures the most acute of which is the devastation of their entire ways of life,” said Klaus Toepfer, UNEP’s executive director.

In many Pacific island states, rising sea levels are causing chaos, said Taito Nakalevu of the South Pacific Regional Environment Program. Tides are becoming powerful, swamping large areas, causing beach erosion, and flooding fields and homes. Due to the increasing saltiness of the water, crops die and families go hungry.

“Where can we move the people?” he asked. “Climate change has an impact on almost all aspects of our lives. Most of our rural communities are still very dependent on natural resources, such as fisheries, agriculture and forestry. But because of climate change, these resources are becoming scarce.”

If they can’t adapt, some cultures may be wiped out. Now, Inuit and the islanders will look at ways to adapt to the changing conditions.

“Climate change in the Arctic is a human issue, a family issue, a community issue, and an issue of cultural survival. The joining of circumpolar peoples with Pacific Island and Caribbean States is surely part of the answer in addressing these issues. Many small voices can make a loud noise,” Watt-Cloutier said. “As we melt, the small developing island states sink.”

A bit like Iyaituk’s polar bear.

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