Threats to the Arctic: Chapter 15 - Threats to Native Ways of Life

Elsevier, Threats to the Arctic, 2021, Pages 481-520
Scott Elias

A few years ago, the Smithsonian Institution staged an exhibit about environmental change in the Arctic. In their exhibit, they quoted Zacharias Aqqiaruq, an Inuit elder from the village of Igloolik in Arctic Canada, who described the Arctic weather in recent years as uggianaqtuq—an Inuit word suggesting strange, unexpected behavior, like a friend acting strangely. The climate of the Arctic dictates that the weather will be harsh and unforgiving for much of the year, with snow and ice the norm, accompanied by freezing temperatures (average January temperatures in Igloolik range from −28.4 to −34.8°C). Arctic natives learned to cope with their frozen lands and ice-covered seas long ago, developing technologies such as the dog sled and kayak that worked well in the snow and on sea ice, respectively. They relied on winter snowfall to cover the ground, making overland transport (by dog sled) far easier in winter than in summer. They relied on the fast ice to get them from the land out to the sea ice from about September through May. This easy access to the frozen-over sea allowed them to hunt for seals and walrus, beluga whales, and narwhals during the freezing season. In short, Arctic Natives, rather than cursing the cold, made friends with it and learned to work with it to make their living.