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Council of Canadians helps to bring Inuit Accounts of Climate Change in Arctic to the Hill

The Council of Canadians joined with the Indigenous Environmental Network, Isuma Productions and Linda Duncan’s office (NDP Environment Critic) brought the influential documentary Inuit Knowledge and Climate Change to a number of MPs and staff representing all political parties, Senators and guests on Parliament Hill last night.

Inuit Knowledge and Climate Change is a important new film that features the accounts of Inuit from a number of communities. It is visually stunning and offers the opportunity to feel you are having one on one conversations.

 The striking similarities in people’s accounts from different communities underscores the overarching point that climate change is not a far off reality for people in the Arctic, they are witnessing it every day.

There are accounts of thinning ice, disappearing multi-year ice, seal with summer fur in winter and beautiful glaciers by the shore disappearing. Warmer weather and flow-edge change meaning less access to seals for hunters.

“In the early 70’s the ice started breaking up early – it became quite scary, we were still on land by mid winter.” said one Inuit elder.

Many describe how melting permafrost means that the land is also being impacted by climate change.

There are accounts of the June 2008 flooding of the Duval river which washed out two bridges, descriptions of houses shaking, the riverbank falling in and huge bolders flowing down the river.

Great concern is expressed over the handling of animals by wildlife biologists and others, particularly tagging and the use of helicopters. Elders describe seeing more polar bears.

Another theme throughout the film was accounts of a change in where the sun rises and set, “the sun used to set and rise on the higest mountain peak, now it sets past this peak.”

 A change in the direction of the wind increasingly from the South instead of the North is another common thread.

National Inuit leader Mary Simon, President of Inuit Tapiriit Kanatami, talks about scientists understanding climate change with pollution and emission studies and Inuit in how it affects their daily lives. Referring to the Kyoto Accord and the need for a next step on the part of world leaders meeting in Cancun, Simon talks about the need for longer term thinking that recongizes responsibilities to future generations.  She also points out that it is the big money makers in the world that have all contributed to climate change and that Inuit never used to have money, they had food and what was important, yet now Inuit are on the frontline of climate change impacts. 

Well-known Inuit activist Sheila Watt Cloutier describes the situation whereby pollution from the south is moving north, such as experiecing acid rain in the Arctic and increasingly polluted waters, and how this effects peoples daily lives that rely on traditional hunting diets.

The film is in the Inuktitut language with English subtitles.

Following the screening, filmaker Dr. Ian Mauro was present in person to answer questions while filmaker Zacharias Kunuk joined over the phone from Panirtung, Nunavut.

Zacharias spoke about the process of making the film, the incredible commonalities in the accounts from community to community. He shared more stories of how people are witnessing and living climate change daily, and their resolute response in recognizing the need to protect, defend and adapt.

Ian spoke about the convergence of western science and the knowledge shared in the film. For example, he spoke about how the changes people are witnessing in the placement of the sun moon and stars in fact is corroborated (despite the initial scoffing at by many scientists) by what NASA scientists have discovered is an effect of atmospheric refraction directly caused by climate change.

The Council of Canadians is increasingly concerned about both the impacts of climate change in the Arctic and the drive to exploit fossil fuel reserves increasingly accessible – ironically – because of the impacts of climate change in melting ice.

90 billion barrels of oil and 1670 trillion cubic feet of natural gas has recently been discovered in the Arctic – over 80 percent is offshore. BP, ExxonMobil Canada and ConocoPhilips alread have exploration rights for the Beaufort Sea. Drilling may begin as soon as 2014.

The Council of Canadians is committed to monitoring and responding to this push towards the Arctic as a final frontier (with convential supplies diminishing) for fossil fuel development.

An important part of this work is recognizing the impacts that are already underway in the Arctic, and recognize the knowledge and experience of Inuit who are witnessing it on a daily basis.