Naalagit: A new way to make them listen

“Our planet is sick and we need to fix it”


Though bone-chilling winds reaching 50 km an hour drove scores of them away, more than 500 Iqalungmiut stuck it out long enough this past Friday to make a dramatic visual statement on the sea ice behind Apex about the dire threat that global warming poses for the Arctic.

Directed by John Quigley, an “aerial image artist” from southern California, Inuit and non-Inuit residents arranged themselves into the shape of a drum-dancer, flanked by the words “Arctic Warning” in English, and “Naalagit” in syllabics.

“The image, and the words, obviously send that message to the world to wake up and listen to the message from the Arctic, from the Inuit people, that global warming is real and that we must act,” said Matt Peterson, the president of Global Green, one of several U.S. environmental groups that joined forces with the Inuit Circumpolar Conference to create the event.

Global Green is the U.S. branch of an international group called The Green Cross, headed by the former leader of the Soviet Union, Mikhail Gorbachev.

Sheila Watt-Cloutier, the chair of the ICC, said the event will help citizens of the U.S. and other energy consuming nations see that their oil- and coal-guzzling economies pose a serious threat to the Inuit way of life.

“This is one incredible way to get that message out,” Watt-Cloutier said.

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Quigley based his design, which he marked out on the snow with tiny coloured flags linked by ribbons, on a drawing by Josie Pitseolak of Pond Inlet, an artist in the Arctic College jewellery program.

A chopper donated by Canadian Helicopters made three or four passes over the scene as a photographer and a videographer recorded the image for transmission around the world.

The event capped a two-day meeting of minds that brought Nunavut and Nunavik Inuit together with environmental activists and politicians from southern California, along with two Hollywood film stars, Salma Hayek and Jake Gyllenhaal.

Eric Garcetti, a Los Angeles city council member whose district takes in the sundrenched but smog-ridden multi-ethnic neighbourhoods that lie below the Hollywood Hills, said the fight against lung-destroying fossil fuel emissions is a matter of life and death in southern California.

“It’s not that the Inuit are suffering any more than the children who live in Los Angeles who grow up simmering in pollution… In Los Angeles where I grew up, it’s estimated that my lung capacity is 80 per cent what I would have if I didn’t grow up in Los Angeles,” he said.

Garcetti, a Democrat, said his city council’s efforts to reduce emissions in southern California benefits the people of Los Angeles as much as it benefits Inuit.

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“We are here looking for allies as much as you are here looking for allies. We need those allies in Los Angeles,” Garcetti said.

Pita Aatami, president of the Makivik Corp., said he agrees with Garcetti: “It’s not just going to help the Inuit. It’s going to help the world. By partnering together, by working together, we can fix the problem, slowly. But it takes commitment from everyone, Americans, people from all over the world.”

Aatami flew to Iqaluit with other Inuit from Nunavik to take part in the event. He thanked the U.S. activists for recognizing the threat that global warming poses for the Inuit.

“Our planet is sick and we need to fix it,” Aatami said.

Garcetti also proposed to Elisapee Sheutiapik, mayor of Iqaluit, that Los Angeles and Iqaluit develop a “sister-city ” relationship.

Sheutiapik said she hopes the U.S. activists will “go back and encourage more decision-makers to come here.”

Salma Hayek, the Mexican actress known for her smouldering performances in films such as Frida, In the Time of the Butterflies, and Desperado, put on a different kind of performance in Iqaluit last Friday: inspirational speeches aimed at convincing ordinary people that they can do something about global warming.

“We are not going to save the planet. The planet does not need to be saved. The planet is going to outlast us. The planet is going to stay here forever. What we’re trying to do is save ourselves,” Hayek said.

The event was conceived when David Veniot, a former sales executive with Ayaya, an Iqaluit graphics arts company, approached Quigley about the idea. The pair then took the idea to ICC.

Ayaya is closely affiliated with Nortext, the company that owns this newspaper. Both Ayaya and Nunatsiaq News were among the event’s sponsors.

For more information: www.arcticwisdom.org

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