Our Land - Our Breath - Our Oceans
By Johnny Issaluk, Arctic Ambassador, Explorer in Residence - Royal Canadian Geographical Society
Growing up in Igluligaarjuk (Chesterfield Inlet), Nunavut, Canada, on the west coast of Hudson’s Bay, I was graced with the traditions and riches of my Inuit culture. With a population of 300 people, my community is very remote and the only way in or out is by airplane, boat, or snowmobile. With ice and snow seven months of the year, we are people of the land and ice. This is my favourite season for hunting and keeping our traditions strong and alive!
Born in 1973, I was fortunate to see the lifestyle of my people, and how we live off the land and the ocean during the two-month summers, one-and-a-half-month fall, the seven months ice and snow, and one-and-a-half-month spring. My parents taught me to hunt respectfully, keep the land clean, and to enjoy the lakes’ and oceans’ freshness and gifts of life, such as oil from fat, food from animals, water, fresh air, and the distances traveled by dog teams or snowmobiles to see vast parts of our land which we also walked and swam.
While walking, boating, and sledding I have always seen driftwood, which has floated to the Arctic since time immemorial and which has always been used because no trees grow in the permafrost. Until I was in my teens I had not seen trees, concrete, or skyscrapers! But now those same currents also bring plastic trash and warmer water which melts our ice, endangering our way of life.
In my lifetime I have seen the sea ice breaking up in early May, whereas 15 years ago I was snowmobiling on that sea ice until the end of June. So many experienced hunters are now falling through the ice that we are constantly trying to adapt our methods. The ice is more brittle and less predictable. It is harder to know whether or not it’s safe to cross. This has similarly affected the animals we see. Fish, whales, seals, caribou, polar bears, and other predators are trying to adapt as well, migrating in different patterns. We see orcas more frequently, hunting the same wildlife we do. We have noticed more insects during the now-longer summer months.
Our elders have told us what needs to be done. Future generations will see the disastrous results of our lack of action. I hope that they still feel strong ties to the earth and to our traditions, even stronger than we do. I hope that my great-grandchildren will have the opportunity to see how my great grandparents lived!
Without collaboration between our nations, the people of the Arctic are not the only ones that will fall through the ice.