Saturday, November 24, 2007

Canada's Inuit facing 'cultural genocide,' says Arctic expert, via CanWest News Service: Some Inuit believe climate change could bring about a "cultural genocide" as their hunting way of life melts with the sea ice, an Arctic expert told a breakfast meeting of parliamentarians on Thursday. "There's a cultural genocide implied," said Franklyn Griffiths, a retired University of Toronto political science professor and expert on Arctic and Russian affairs. "That is my phrase, not something they'd use." With climate change, the physical basis for Inuit culture will disappear, he said in an interview later. "They won't be able to practise a hunting culture at all."

Griffiths traveled extensively throughout the Arctic last spring to interview Inuit hunters and elders about their attitudes on climate change. A small but strong minority is concerned climate change will kill the traditional Inuit way of life - based on hunting and fishing on sea ice - that in turn threatens their identity as a people. "There's a real worry that the physical basis for the culture will be wiped out," Griffiths said. "Hunting will become the equivalent of picnics. It's all over, that way. No longer are they Inuit." Although the majority of Inuit he interviewed believed they would adapt to climate change, Griffiths said he is worried about their culture. "I think there is a real risk of Inuit culture being wiped out," he said, "but when and how fast that happens, I don't really know."

Last week, Louis Fortier, scientific director of the Canadian research network ArcticNet, said the worst case scenarios about melting sea ice are coming true and the Arctic Ocean could be ice-free in summertime as soon as 2010 or 2015. Previous forecasts had pegged the year at 2050. "If reputable scientists are saying that, then (cultural genocide) isn't too strong a term," New Democrat MP Denise Savoie said. "Aside from the loss in terms of nature, it's also a huge loss culturally."

Bloc Quebecois MP Yvon Levesque, who represents the far north Quebec riding of Abitibi-James-Bay-Nunavik-Eeyou, said he wouldn't use the term "genocide" but he agreed the Inuit culture is threatened by climate change. Levesque said he has seen a change in sea ice himself just in the past three years. In June 2004 the sea ice was against the coast in his riding, and last May it was gone. Liberal MP Larry Bagnell also underscored Griffiths' worry, citing the Gwitchin First Nations people in his Yukon riding who depend on hunting the Porcupine caribou. Their migration patterns and calving are already showing signs of change. "Global warming can easily affect that and it would basically lead to the elimination of the Gwitchin people," Bagnell said. "I would agree that with global warming, we're certainly going to lose the Inuit people as we know them today because obviously their patterns, their life, their culture is going to have to change."

Griffiths said the Inuit could be seen as today's DEW line - the Distant Early Warning system established across the north to warn of imminent Soviet attack. "There is a potential catastrophe coming our way," he told parliamentarians. "What are we doing? We're sitting here eating our scrambled eggs."

No comments: