Polar Connection

T o me, and to all Indigenous Peoples, and to all those affected by the harmful impacts of climate change, the issues I speak about are all connected — our rights as indigenous peoples are one and the same as our environmental and cultural rights. Indeed, everything is connected.

As one of the world’s most vulnerable regions, the Arctic is undergoing historic environmental and social change. For decades, the North and its peoples have been subjected to the most dramatic environmental effects of globalization. Most recently, climate change caused by greenhouse gases has left virtually no feature of our landscape or our way of life untouched, and now threatens our very culture.

The latest reports of climate change coming in from all of our communities are starker than ever.  Virtually every community across the North is now struggling to cope with extreme coastal erosion, melting permafrost, and rapid, destructive runoff that threatens to erode away whole towns, especially in Alaska and the western part of our own country.  Despite the recent particularly cold winter, our sea ice remains in rapid decline.  Glacial melt long relied on for drinking water is now unpredictable, and invasive species travel much further north than ever before. While the size and type of each effect varies, the trends are consistent. Change is not just coming — it is already here.

These last decades, however, have seen more than just dramatic environmental change — they have also borne witness to a remarkable awakening of global environmental consciousness, a realization that we are all connected by a common atmosphere and shared oceans.

As Inuit we have been, and remain, a hunting people of the land, ice, and snow. The process of the hunt teaches our young people to be patient, courageous, bold under pressure, and reflective, and gives them a sense of identity and self worth. The international community has learned from our way of life as well. International agencies, national governments, civil society and the media have begun to see that the Inuit hunter, falling through the melting ice, is connected to the cars we drive, the policies we enact, and the disposable world we have created.

Baffin Island, Nunavut, Canada

As this collective consciousness has emerged, so too have new and innovative partnerships and solutions to address these problems. Global environmental challenges have been successfully addressed when the international community has come together to acknowledge the connections between far-off sources of pollution and the local impacts on health, environment, and human rights.

While you would never know it today, the links between climate change and human rights were virtually unknown in the broader world just a few years ago. In 2005 we, as the Indigenous Community, changed that when we submitted a climate change petition to the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights on behalf of Inuit from Alaska and Canada, myself included. We successfully translated the human rights dimensions of climate change and its impacts into legal arguments and brought our message to an international human rights tribunal. It was the first case in which the links between human rights and climate change were made clear.

This petition was a “gift” from Inuit hunters and elders to the world.  It was an act of generosity from an ancient culture deeply tied to the natural environment and still in tune with its wisdom, to an urban, industrial, and “modern” world that had largely lost its sense of place in nature.

As elders, youth, scholars, policymakers, activists and the public, we must come together as a collective to address the greatest human rights challenge of our time. This understanding of our shared humanity is what is needed to spur decision-makers to act urgently and ambitiously to protect our right to a safe climate.

Siila Watt-Cloutier is an environmental, cultural, and human rights advocate. In 2007, she was nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize for her work which shows the impact global climate change has on human rights. Her book The Right to Be Cold has been shortlisted for Canada Reads 2017.

MAVEN OF CHANGE

Tropic Ice

Barbara Dombrowski is a German photographer and visual artist who dedicates her work to the places and native peoples directly affected by climate change. She returns with large format photographs to bridge cultures living in different climate extremes.

Become part of the art at tropic-ice.com/part-of-the-art and follow Barbara’s work @barbaradombrowski

ARTIST

In Transition

Zaria Forman’s pastel art conveys the wonders of ice and water at a scale and fragility that speaks to the urgency of climate change

“It is my life’s mission to convey the urgency of climate change through art. I travel to the Polar regions to capture the unfolding story of ice melt, and to the Equator to document the rising seas. My drawings explore moments of transition, turbulence, and tranquility in the landscape, allowing viewers to connect with places they may never be able to visit. According to behavioral psychology, we take action and make decisions based on our emotions, which art has the ability to stoke. My images overflow with details to draw the viewer in, and transport them. I convey the beauty of these vulnerable regions, as opposed to their devastation, in order to inspire viewers to help preserve them. These landscapes are fairly inaccessible, so their environmental issues may seem remote or abstract. I work on a large scale to recreate the wonder of witnessing an iceberg up close. I hope to generate momentum and unity of purpose across boundaries of discipline, geography and political affiliation.”

Zaria Forman was born in 1982 in South Natick, MA. She was raised in Piermont, NY and currently lives and works in Brooklyn, NY. View more of her work @zarialynn

ORGANIZATION

Arctic Eider Society

Eider down is the warmest feather in the world–nature’s best technology for storing heat and surviving cold Arctic winters–and its use in Inuit parkas is a symbol of this group’s dedication to preserving traditional culture and knowledge while integrating new technology

In the early 1990s the Hudson Bay community of Sanikiluaq, prompted by proposed development and large entrapments and die offs of belugas and eider ducks, responded to long-standing concerns of environmental change affecting sea ice habitats and wildlife. This effort culminated with the creation of Voices from the Bay, a unique synthesis of Inuit and Cree knowledge and priorities from 23 communities around Hudson Bay. Implementing programs to address these priorities are at the heart of the Arctic Eider Society / Société des Eiders de l’Arctique (SEA~AES) mission.

Through community-driven research, training programs, outreach and culturally relevant education for youth SEA~AES works with Inuit and Cree communities to understand how environmental change is affecting sea ice ecosystems.

Using innovative tools SEA~AES helps communities address issues of food security, safety, environmental stewardship for sea ice and marine ecosystems and other issues of local concern. In 2017 SEA~AES’s innovative approach to the integration of technology and indigenous knowledge led to the creation of SIKU, the Inuit Knowledge Wiki & Social Mapping Platform.

Named for the Inuktitut word for sea ice, SIKU is a mobile social media platform that allows users to document and share ice knowledge in real and near-real time. The platform organizes ice knowledge for community use to facilitate sea ice safety, language preservation, education, training and environmental stewardship.

SIKU is the winner of the 2017 Google.org Impact Challenge in Canada.

To learn more about SEA~AES and the ways you can support them visit arcticeider.com

PERSPECTIVE

Walking on Thin Ice

Motivated by the thrill of adventure and a personal commitment to conservation, Vincent Colliard is crossing the 20 largest glaciers on the planet

In 2014, French adventurer Vincent Colliard and Norwegian polar explorer Børge Ousland initiated a long-term expedition project they called Ice Legacy. Over the course of 10 years the pair plan to cross the 20 largest glaciers on the planet to bear witness to their awesomeness, the effects of climate change and the power of storytelling.

Equally fuelled by the thrill of exploration and the fulfillment of sharing these special places with as many people as possible, Ice Legacy works in partnership with the scientific community to expand our knowledge of glaciers. While on expedition, Colliard and Ousland take samples of snow and ice for scientists at the University of Alaska Anchorage and help document the state of the glaciers with the hope of raising awareness and initiating long-term activism towards ice conservation.

Crossing glaciers and polar exploration may be extreme examples of how to personally engage in conservation, but at the heart of their adventures Colliard and Ousland offer us a simple example to follow: we can incorporate conservation into whatever we do—whether its collecting snow samples on an Alaskan ice field or biking to work. As Colliard optimistically states, “If we see the glass half full rather than half empty, it is never too late to start.”

To learn more about the Ice Legacy project follow @vincentcolliard, @borgeousland and @icelegacyproject

IMPRESSION

Simply Beautiful

On his first trip to the Canadian Arctic photographer Neil Ever Osborne finds comfort in the light

It was the coldest I had ever been.

The wind’s edge felt like daggers. I couldn’t expose any of my skin in -50oC for more than a few seconds. My camera and lenses had frosted over and James “Jimmy” Haniliak, my Inuk guide, was often far enough ahead of me that I would lose sight of him from time to time. I managed to follow his snow machine tracks in the ice, though fogged up goggles made this difficult.

Jimmy and I were part of a small expedition team atop a frozen Northwest Passage after leaving Cambridge Bay, a hamlet on Victoria Island in the Kitikmeot Region of Nunavut. South of this famous frozen stretch of water was the “mainland”, our destination on the continental landmass where the musk oxen were suppose to be only a day’s journey away. Jimmy’s hunting cabin was there too.

We didn’t have a map, but Jimmy had done the trek enough times to know where to go, and he was more confident with his mental imagery than he was with the GPS we brought with us. He navigated our way towards an endless blank-white horizon knowing the thickness of the ice by way of its colour. He also knew about an island outcrop where the nearby underwater currents regularly shifted the stability of the frozen terrain and a number of snow machines had fallen through.

It was my first time in the Canadian Arctic and during the chilling moments I had to photograph, I was enamoured by the vastness of the wild landscape but equally drawn to the myriad of textures and blue hues seen in the details when I simply looked down and examined light passing through one of nature’s most alluring surfaces. This intoxication lasted the whole journey, though the elements hastily reminded me that I was no where near as prepared as Jimmy to be there.

At the time, the incessant cold started to get to me. My persistence was certainly in doubt. Eight hours into that adventure and I was done.

But, as I write this now, I don’t remember the cold as much as I remember the feeling of comfort when Jimmy finally lit the lantern in his cabin. It is indeed the simple things.

Neil Ever Osborne is a conservation photographer and partner at Evermaven, a full-service communications agency that links people, planet, and profit. To view more of their work visit evermaven.com