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A petition for their right to exist

by Archives November 1, 2006

Climate change is impacting the way of life for Northern communities so drastically that groups such as the Inuit are questioning whether they can survive its assault.

In a speech at this year’s Social Science Festival at Vanier College, Sheila Watts-Cloutier, former Chair of the Inuit Circumpolar Conference (ICC), said the cold reality is that environmental degradation in the Arctic is “not just about the depletion of ice and snow.”

To her, climate change is a human issue, which is why the ICC recently launched a petition for the protection of the Inuit’s right to exist as an indigenous people.

The social implications of climate change for the Inuit are enormous. Their hunting and food sharing culture may well become extinct. Seals use the ice as a resting platform and give birth on it. Polar bears hunt an ever-decreasing population of ice-dependent seals. The rise of the sea level is eroding the tundra, shrinking the habitats of many living things such as migratory birds.

Watts-Cloutier said there was a danger that the community’s traditional knowledge would be lost, and there are indications of an increased suicide rate. “Human-induced climate change is an assault on our culture,” said Watts-Cloutier. “It really does threaten the memories of where we were, where we lived and all that we want to become.”

The Quebec native from Kujuak described the Arctic as “the health barometer of the world”, saying the current trends of melting ice caps and rising sea levels are an early warning. She said she hopes people will listen, but is also pressing for government action.

According to Watts-Cloutier, Canada does not have a valid plan to address climate change. The current government has said the requirements of the Kyoto Protocol, which targets a six per cent reduction of greenhouse gas emission to reach 1990’s levels by the year 2012, are not achievable.

To replace the Kyoto Protocol, the Conservative Party recently proposed the Clean Air Act, which aims to cut greenhouse gas emissions in half by the year 2050. The bill would not take effect until 2010.

Watts-Cloutier also criticized the United States for their lack of involvement, saying that even though it produces more than 25 per cent of the world’s greenhouse gas emissions, the country is the “odd man out” when it comes to reducing them.

The ICC’s petition, which includes video testimonies of 62 Inuit people in Canada and Alaska, is a “gift from the Inuit” to the world, said Watts-Cloutier. The petition is her nation’s way of letting the rest of the world know what is happening to the planet.

The ICC is an international, non-governmental organization representing approximately 150,000 Inuit in Alaska, Canada, Greenland, and Chukotka (Russia).

Watts-Cloutier is also working on a book, appropriately called The Right To Be Cold, about the protection of Inuit culture in relation to global issues. The book is slated to be released next year.

For more information visit
www.inuitcircumpolar.com

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