Translate page with Google

Story Publication logo November 11, 2009

"I've gone from the stone age to the digital age."


Media file: 943.jpg

In the remote northern reaches of one of the wealthiest countries of the world is an aboriginal...

author #1 image author #2 image
Multiple Authors

Linda Matchan, for the Pulitzer Center (Photos by Michele McDonald)

Zacharias Kunuk, center, president and co-founder of Igloolik Isuma Productions, Canada's first Inuit-owned independent production company, works on editing latest film.

Scientists may be hyper-focused on global warming right now, but as Igloolik filmmaker Zacharias Kunuk sees it, they've neglected to consult the real experts: Inuit elders.

Kunuk is co-founder of Igloolik Isuma Productions. The company's first feature film, "Atanarjuat: The Fast Runner," was Canada's first feature film written, directed and acted by Inuit in the Inuktitut language. It won numerous awards, including the Camera d'or for Best First Feature Film at the 2001 Cannes International Film Festival.

Several other films followed. Isuma also established an online media platform called IsumaTV; it's an internet video portal for indigenous filmmakers. Now Kunuk is combining all these elements and turning his attention to global warming, using video technology to enable Inuit elders to weigh in on the subject of climate change.

A word about elders in Inuit culture. Unlike youth-obsessed America, elder members of Inuit family are very much respected here, holding positions of high esteem in the community. (More than once I've heard young people citing the "elder" point of view on various topics.) Elders are frequently consulted on Inuit Qaujimajatuqangit or their "Inuit traditional knowledge" into the workings of nature, humans and animals.

But they're rarely consulted outside the community, and certainly not about global warming despite their intimate knowledge of the land. This accounts for IsumaTV's new initiative, the "Inuit Knowledge and Climate Change" project. It's a collaboration between Isuma and Ian Mauro, a post-doc fellow at the University of Victoria's School of Environmental Studies. Their ultimate goal is to make a feature-length film on the Inuit perspective about how climate change is affecting the environment and Inuit culture.

"Inuit people are underrepresented [in the global warming debate] and are arguably the most knowledgeable people about climate change," said Mauro, in Isuma's small Igloolik office.

As they conduct interviews for the film, Isuma's team is traveling around Nunavut and posting video content on the IsumaTV website. Using satellite technology, they're transmitting live video from the tundra, talking to men and women who were born in an igloo or a sod house. "In my lifetime, I've gone from the stone age to the digital age," Kunuk, born in 1957, has said.

They heard from 82-year-old Evie Aninilianik from Pangnirtung who talked about how concerned she was about the health of animals in the Arctic, particularly caribou and polar bear: The caribou are starting to show white spots in their meat now, which is different from the past. Pangnirtung's oldest woman, Elisapee Ishulutaq, was born around 1925 and observed that the sea ice is breaking up earlier and the glaciers are disappearing.

"All the glaciers that used to be by the shore, they're all completely gone … We used to get drinking water from those glaciers, but we can no longer do this."

Pangnirtung's oldest man, 91-year-old Inusiq Nashalik, said that when he hunted seals on the ice as a
young man, his face would get tanned, but now the sun's rays are penetrating deeper, and burning hunters' faces.

Ironically, IsumaTV has been creating movies and video for communities that have neither movie theaters nor high-speed Internet access. "They are low bandwith communities and [the cost of] downloading bandwidth is prohibitive," Mauro said. So part of the project involves installing internet technology that will allow IsumaTV to be shared wirelessly in Arctic communities.

Another part of the project reflects young Inuit perspectives on climate change. Kunuk's team is holding film and photography workshops in the communities they're visiting, and the intriguing results are also posted on the website. One of them is a silent black and white Buster Keaton-esque slapstick comedy; the soundtrack includes klezmer music and the song "NewYork, New York."…

There's no question that the environment in the Arctic is changing.

Support our work

Your support ensures great journalism and education on underreported and systemic global issues