According to the Arctic Climate Impact Assessment, there is enormous evidence that our climate is changing very rapidly. The Arctic is getting warmer a lot quicker than anywhere else. And our hunters and elders have been noticing so many changes in the last decade. The ice is depleting—forming later in the year and breaking up earlier in the spring—leaving sea-ice hunting time a lot shorter for us as well as for the polar bears who are also sea hunters. That is quite an alarm for us.
The coast is literally eroding in Western Canada and Alaska, the permafrost is quickly melting, and we’ve had to move people’s homes. The glaciers are also melting quite rapidly. Streams that hunters used to be [able to] cross have now become torrent rivers, and we’ve had drownings.
We’ve also been witnessing a lot of different species of insects, birds and fish that are finding their way up into the Arctic because of the warming. Our cultural survival is at stake as well... We have never lost that strong, strong connection to our way of life even in terms of all the changes we’ve been going through in becoming wage earners and institutionalized. We are trying to maintain our way of life that has sustained us for millennia. We have never yet depleted one species of an animal in that millennia, so we know a little bit about sustainability....
What happens to the planet happens first up here. We are hoping that the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights can declare this as a violation of the human rights of the Inuit of the world [see inset below]. Then we can be given a bit of an equal playing field when the two hemispheres negotiate these things globally. Right now we are barely on the radar screen.
Article VII. Right to Cultural integrity
1. Indigenous peoples have the right to their cultural integrity, and their historical and archeological heritage, which are important both for their survival as well as for the identity of their members.
2. Indigenous peoples are entitled to restitution in respect of the property of which they have been dispossessed, and where that is not possible, compensation on a basis not less favorable than the standard of international law.
3. The states shall recognize and respect indigenous ways of life, customs, traditions, forms of social, economic and political organization, institutions, practices, beliefs and values, use of dress, and languages.
The Right to Cultural integrity, in proposed Rights of Indigenous Peoples addition to the OAS Convention on Human rights
What is happening in the Arctic is very much a connectivity issue. I’ve always said that the Inuit hunters falling through the depleting ice here is connected to the cars we drive, and is connected to the disposable world that we have become, and the industries that we’ve come to rely upon. [The fact] that Inuit mothers have to think twice about nursing their babies should surely be a wake up call. My hope is that we can have the world understand through our story and our challenges that the planet and its people are one.
-- Excerpted from “The Right to be cold” Satya interview with Sheila Watt Cloutier at COP-15. See full text.
Originally from Kuujjuaq, Nunavik, in Northern Quebec and currently based in Iqaluit, Nunavut, Sheila Watt-Cloutier was the Canadian President of the Inuit Circumpolar Council (the ICC), and International Chair of the ICC 2002-2006, representing 155,000 native people. Though she has been given National Aboriginal and two UN awards, as well as the Order of Canada, successive Canadian governments have avoided taking the action on climate change that she urges. In 2005, she and 62 hunters filed a petition to the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights, arguing that the effects of emissions and greenhouse gases from the U.S. was a violation of human and cultural rights of the Inuit. She is now working with the Climate Action Project and 1sky.org.
Inuit Tapirisat president Mary Simon "My homeland is melting" 24 Oct 09
Wikipedia on Watt-Cloutier's work and the Washington-based IAHR, her Dec 2007 testimony to IAHR
RealClimate reply to deniers of the 2005 Arctic Climate Impact Assessment (ACIA). Many of the deniers were later proven to be funded by fossil-fuel companies.
Pew Centre on Global ClimateChange FAQ on the ACIA global warming effects on the Arctic and the USA
BBC videos from the Canadian Arctic: interviews with Inuit, breakup of Arctic ice shelf 2007.
CBC videos and updates on climate, Arctic
US-based EarthJustice news on Arctic