Unikkaaqatigiit - Putting a human face on climate change evolved from a collaboration between various Inuit communities of Canada (the Inuvialuit Settlement Region, Nunavut, Nunavik, and Nunatsiavut), and their institutions, and research centres, namely the Inuit Tapiriit Kanatami, the Nasivvik Centre for Inuit Health and Changing Environments, the Ajunnginiq Centre, and the regional Inuit land claim organisations. In the six languages represented in the project, Unikkaaqatigiit provides a synopsis of materials produced in local workshops that took place between 2002 and 2005 on impacts of environmental changes and how they affect communities. In each region, workshops were held in several communities and led by research teams comprised of Indigenous and non-Indigenous members.
The project’s goal is both to provide Indigenous voices with a forum and to contribute to the national and global arena of policy and research on climate change and adaptation. In the foreword, Jose A. Kusugak, President of Inuit Tapiriit Kanatami, emphasises that the daily Arctic experiences of climate change impacts, presented and discussed in this book, should raise awareness of, at least, some of the challenges to culture and survival that Arctic communities are facing today. As such, the publication not only leads to suggestions for policy and research, but also serves to raise awareness of the ethical and practical importance of the human dimensions of climate change.
The synopsis is ordered into three sections and summarises findings in written form as well as in very helpful tables and diagrams. The section Observations outlines the changes observed by community members. Impacts discusses how the changes affect the various areas of life. Adaptations provides existing or suggested adaptive strategies as discussed during the workshops. The book concludes by highlighting a number of recommendations for policy and research to address the issues raised in the workshops. The appendix lists specific community reports with materials in more detail, thus providing a useful study resource.
Many examples of observed changes show the integrative perspective of indigenous knowledge, as explicitly discussed (pp. 55-57 of the English translation). Indigenous observational data make complex interconnections between the local ecosystem and local lifeways. Most suggestions therefore also focus on how to continue living off the land, rather than withdrawing from traditional forms of life. The industrial development that is currently promoted by Greenland’s government, and driven by climate change, has little support in the voices gathered between 2002 and 2005. It remains to be seen whether there will be a similar shift towards this kind of economic development among North American Arctic Indigenous groups.
Focusing on traditions, however, does not mean excluding new elements. Workshop participants welcomed, for example, use of new technologies. Also, new collaborations, such as in food exchanges between various communities and the wish for a wider network of communication that includes access to scientific data on, for example, ice conditions, show the continuing importance of flexibly establishing and maintaining relationships. The book suggests that Indigenous communities are open to new elements that provide for safe and productive living off the land. These networks extend also to partnerships with various levels of government and non-governmental organisations for financial and logistical assistance in implementing costly projects, such as protection against shoreline erosion. While not addressed directly, these requested partnerships nevertheless raise important ethical issues about the use of power, the acceptance of responsibility for climate change among the industrialised nations, the value of cultural diversity, and our relationship with the natural world.
In a global context that often proves unresponsive to Indigenous and minority voices, the use of a Western format of speaking—a book—bears witness to the resolve of Arctic communities to engage in climate change debates not with the voice of “victims” but as partners. By speaking of their specific cases and experiences, the contributors to Unikkaaqatigiit -Putting a Human Face to Climate Change arguably give insights into the situation of their communities and into ways of dealing with climate change as part of the global community while doing justice to the complexity of its causes and impacts. It remains to be seen whether the inter-cultural, inter-agency, and inter-disciplinary discourse on climate change of this and similar publications will find a place in climate change policy-making and public discourses that mostly reflect the paradigms of the economy, national security, and the natural environment.
Through its emphasis on Indigenous perspectives, its materials, its accessible presentation, and its multi-language format, the book is well suited not only for advocacy, policy-making, and research, but also for multicultural learning settings in schools, institutions of higher education, and adult education that deal with climate change in its complexity and concreteness. It may also be useful for language students who want to familiarise themselves with the vocabulary that is evolving within the relatively new field of climate-change discourse.