The signs of climate change are undeniable. In Canada, it’s across our northern borders that we’re seeing some of the most dramatic effects first. Inuk cultural interpreter Jennifer Kilabuk was born and raised in Iqaluit, the capital city of Nunavut, and she says the impact of climate change in the North has already begun affecting her family—and her job.
The Nunavut Climate Change Centre has reported glacier retreat, sea-ice and lake-ice thinning, permafrost thawing, coastal erosion from wave action, changes in ocean currents, and shifting ranges of plant and animal species—all as a direct result of climate change. Permafrost is the thick layer of sediment on the ground that freezes in the Northern hemisphere. However, according to the National Snow and Ice Data Center, permafrost—or permanently frozen ground in northern regions—has now decreased by 10 percent.
The reduction in that thick layer of frozen sediment can cause landslides and even affect surrounding buildings in the area. Case in point: the floor of Iqaluit’s Arctic Winter Games arena began sinking soon after the arena was opened in 2001. It cost $2.2 million to repair. For Kilabuk and her family, the effects of climate change are hitting even closer to home.
“My mother’s home is slowing sinking due to permafrost thaw,” she says, “One of the pylons holding her house up is sinking and making the whole house uneven, leaving a crack in her wall that leads up to the ceiling.”
Rather than passively watching these changes to her community and her home, the 24-year-old is making changes of her own. Kilabuk did an internship in Nunavut’s Department of Environment followed by months working in the Climate Change Secretariat, where she encouraged all Nunavummiut to take action, to be involved in ongoing conversations and to be conscious of their environmental footprints. She shared energy-efficient tips and environmentally friendly alternatives, like doing laundry in cold water, that could be adopted in daily life through a recent Energy Wise campaign.
Now, working as a cultural interpreter for Adventure Canada, an expedition travel company that allows visitors to explore the North on small cruise ships, Kilabuk educate passengers about the customs and heritage of her Inuk community, as well as the everyday impacts of climate change in the North.
However, while Kilabuk works to educate newcomers to the North, traditional learning within her own community is slowly being eroded because of climate change. Climate change affects the way traditional Inuk knowledge is passed down through generations. Kilabuk’s late grandfather, a well-known wildlife officer and hunter in the community, often told stories about his favourite hunting spots. But the beautiful spots that he once spoke about can no longer be accessed because the sea ice does not freeze in the same way that it used to. Not only does this affect the community’s ability to hunt, but thin ice has been cited as the reason for cancelling Iqaluit’s annual New Year’s Eve Ski-Doo parade in recent years.
“In order to teach someone about the traditional knowledge of that area they must be able to go there,” says Kilabuk, explaining that some areas near to Frobisher Bay, where her community used to hunt and where many stories and customs are based, are no longer accessible. “Unfortunately, the traditional knowledge of that particular area was lost when my grandfather had passed.”
Local warming trends in Nunavut have recorded significant change in temperature averaging around of 1.5°C (and regionally up to 3 degrees). As reported by Live Science, the melting in the North has caused a dramatic reduction of sea ice, hitting record lows in the winter of 2015 and 2016.
“The scientific consensus in this area is that climate change is affecting Canada’s North more acutely and will continue have these greater impacts in the coming decades,” says Madhur Anand, professor at the University of Guelph in Ontario and author of Climate Change Biology. “While it is very hard to turn the climate change ship around, there are things that can be done to mitigate its impact such as reducing GHG [greenhouse gas] emissions. More importantly, we need to consider adaptation measures such as how to change lifestyle and behaviour to deal with changes affecting local communities.”
In addition to her job as a cultural interpreter, Kilabuk also acts as the president of the Baffin Regional Youth Council and she started a youth camp called Traditional Roots. The program helps young Inuit learn about history and culture while spending a few days on the land learning traditional skills from elders. However, Traditional Roots was also designed to help youth better adapt and understand the changes their community may face in the future.
“I think its important for my generation and future generations to stay connected to their Inuit culture and heritage because there is so much strength and pride to be gained in their teachings,” says Kilabuk. “If we want to continue to survive in this fast-changing world we must learn to be as brave and as strong and as adaptable as our ancestors were.”