Hunters Moon - Changing climate, shifting culture

"I sit in my cramped seat, safety belt buckled tightly; I look down at my plastic cup of tepid water, the juddering turbulence shaking its volume. As I look out through the scratched Perspex window, I watch the rapid rotation of the propellers and the buffeting of the small wing tips.  For a second as the plane momentarily dips below the grey cloud line to reveal the Arctic Ocean beneath, my eyes widen and from my high altitude vantage point icebergs the size of houses pepper the ocean appearing frozen in time. I write in my journal “even from high up you get the feeling this is somewhere special”

It’s approaching two years since I made my way to Greenland to spend time with the Inuit hunters. Every day my memory conjures up revolving images of a timeless and ancient way of life and it’s adaptation to the modernity of western influences. For the Inuit, their culture, identity and psyche is firmly rooted in their partnership between dog and man, landscape and wildlife.  For much of the year this magical balance and perfect partnership coexists with the brutal and enigmatic patterns of Greenland’s weather system. For centuries the Inuit’s success relied upon working with the weather, not against it, to thrive as a culture. Their strength and resilience as a group of people can undoubtedly be traced back to the ancestors and the ancient wisdom and religious duty passed down generation to generation. Yet in my heart I can’t help but fear times are slowly changing.

As the earth and the fragile climate have continued to warm, nowhere does it affect more dramatically than the Arctic. Ice once thick and passable has become thinner and softer resulting in an earlier shift in the spring months. The Inuit’s current subsistence lifestyle, dependent on the abundances of Arctic wildlife, is on the verge of irrefutable change. The Arctic, notably Greenland, has seen a temperature rise twice the global average. With that, the once concealed and frozen permafrost is thawing at a greater rate with each coming spring and the methane discharge into the atmosphere is steadily on the rise. This circular perpetuation of a shifting Arctic climate, encouraged by human and natural forces, will mean the ancient and magical partnership between dog and man; landscape and wildlife will have to change and adapt with it.

The strength of the Inuit people springs from the relationship to the land and the wildlife that inhabits it. Older communities centered on the preparation for the hunt, thus becoming the most important activity for the survival of their culture. In modern times this ritual and the outcome doesn’t necessarily mean life and death but the tradition and ceremony still beats on the drum and in the heart the Inuit people. Certain cuts of meat are still delivered to the elders as show of respect. The valuable skin is still awarded to the hunter who spotted and killed the animal. But what is a culture that relies on this vital relationship, without their animals in their natural habitat? What if they are forced to the mainland towards the economic market place, what for the culture then? Will these beautiful traditions nurtured and perpetuated in time, from hunter to son, through song and dance, poetry and drawings be inevitably lost to either time or the modern progress of coming generations? It’s possible that once that link with nature is broken it could be catastrophic for the people.

I have a growing concern for the future of one of the most unique and diverse environments in the world. We have a global duty to make the conscious environmental changes in our own lives that will support the ongoing awareness for climate change. This is not just for the Inuit but for all cultures, especially those that directly rely on their natural environment for subsistence living. Cultures are a breath of the human spirit, a reflection of our adaptability and strength as a species.  We have inhabited nearly every major region of the world, but what can a culture and environment truly teach us if it’s not there anymore, driven to the dusty pages of a history book, with us partially to blame.

Only so much.