APECS Canada is uniquely equipped to discuss people living in polar regions as three of their board members are residents of the Canadian North! Below is a summary of insights from those living and working in the Arctic and sub-Arctic.
Vast territories cover both poles of the planet and encompass a diversity of people, including indigenous and non-indigenous communities, as well as high-level scientific platforms such as McMurdo Station. Cultures of the #PolarWorld are numerous and some have evolved with polar dynamics for millennia. Geopolitics of the #PolarWorld are complex, with multiple levels of governance, from local to global, influencing each other. The #PolarWorld is rapidly changing and multiple forms of knowledge are used and needed to address the complexity of those changes.
In Canada, our Arctic is greatly impacted by global climate change, and in particular sea ice loss. All northern people are impacted by climate change, but particularly those who live and depend on the ecosystem the sea ice creates. This is exacerbated by a lack of understanding of land-based pursuits, particularly when it comes to issues like the seal hunt. I recommend watching Inuit and Canadian film maker Alethea Arnaquq-Baril's 'Angry Inuk' (https://www.nfb.ca/film/angry_inuk/). In the Yukon, springs are earlier, summer growing seasons are longer, and permafrost is thawing with sometimes colossal masses of coastline eroding into the ocean. Not all wildlife is genetically prepared to adapt to these changes, and the ability for northerners to harvest their food is changing.
The Canadian Arctic is an interesting place to live and work. Knowing how to dress for the weather solves a lot of issues. Gear doesn't have to be fancy or expensive. I recommend asking northern residents who live in the climate year round how they keep warm. In the winter using skidoos or dog mushing it's important to keep skin covered, no gaps between jacket arms and your gloves or your coat collar and neck-warmer, to avoid frost bite. Understanding how to use your gear is important, particularly snowmobile repair so you don't get stuck far from town. Also being able to build a shelter and stay warm with a fire. Shelters can be built out of wood or snow. Quinzee's are different from igloos because rather than using hard blocks of snow, you shovel a huge pile of snow, put forearm-length sticks in to measure wall width, let it sinter (or harden) and then dig out a tunnel/cavity for sleeping. Summer's are hot to warm-ish, but can often be buggy. Mosquitoes can be thick and a bug jacket is sometimes the only thing that maintains sanity.
Here is Meagan Grabowski of APECS Canada and her sled dogs!
Polar scientific collaboration is essential to building evidence of change, but it is also important for international researchers to understand that the Canadian Arctic is not an empty, remote place. It is full of vibrant communities and people and cultures that appreciate knowing what researchers are doing in their home. It is important to share results and communicate with communities you are conducting research in. Sometimes scientists forget that their projects are so specific and detailed that your average person might not want to hear everything about it. It is important to draw connections between specific work and broader work, share key messages of the general research question with communities and be willing to reciprocate sharing/learning. Sometimes seasonal or visiting scientists could do a better job of learning more about the people in the places they go, and spending time there. For example, listening to the local radio to get a sense of what issues local people are facing.
Similarly, researchers can use the Traditional Ecological Knowledge (TEK) from communities to help us understand the land we are studying. TEK is one of the big steps in Arctic science that opens new horizons for the study of climate change. There are a few quite simple facts about TEK and its utility in the Arctic:
- TEK is the combination of Indigenous/local observations about wildlife and nature. However, you do not have to be born Indigenous to become a TEK keeper. Instead, if you are a local person who lives by traditional subsistence (Hunting, fishing, whaling etc.), you observe the local environment and accumulate TEK. TEK is also a very holistic and spiritual type of knowledge.
- TEK has been synthesized with environmental science. By combining scientific data with local observations of nature, it has become possible to receive more accurate data on native environments such as patterns of animal migration.
- The Arctic suggests many approaches of utilizing TEK in environmental science. The most well-known regime of TEK in the Arctic is called co-management boards (North America). Co-management boards bring together wildlife managers and Aboriginal TEK holders to discuss the wildlife governance. The Sami pastoralism in the Nordic countries (community-based reindeer herding management) could be considered a viable alternative.
- The use of TEK is great in terms of tracking the effects of climate change. The TEK holders observe ice melting and changes in caribou migration more often than scientists.
TEK is a fabulous source of data that should be utilized in diverse ways. Each Arctic country suggests an authentic model of using TEK. TEK is the future of climate change study.
Thanks to APECS Canada for their great perspectives on people of the poles!