Sunday, 15 March 2009

How will it help?

Brian Perich from South Korea asked, "What are the long term benefits to the Inuit you visit, in terms of global exposure and how will it help?"

That is a very good question. The world is getting a smaller place in terms of how technology has made it. I can now send back my thoughts and reports from the luxury of my tent hundreds of miles away from the nearest computer or land line telephone. The satellite phone and pda has made it possible for information to be sent from remote parts of the world, to audiences from all over the world following an expedition. Last weeks figures indicated we have people reading this blog from all corners of the world, which is fantastic to know.

My expedition is also just one of a number of expeditions which are experiencing the Inuit way of life and how it is threatened by climate change. Expeditions such as;

Glenn Morris
Will Stegers
Mitsure Ohba
The Scandinavian
Rebecca Mcknight

This is just to name a few and all are engaged in educational projects in schools.

How does it benefit these isolated communities? By getting their stories out, by reporting credible eye witness accounts of the world around us, through educating young people around the world about the arctic and the challenges facing the people who live there, people like the Inuit.

Travel is a fantastic way to learn, through direct interaction with the world around us. Expeditions are a more remote example but with the aid of this technology, can help make a massive impact in the classroom. To educate and inspire all over the world, as well as here in the arctic.

Polar Bear Problems

Sunday I headed out on the sea ice around Qikiqtarjuag to see if we catch a seal. Seal hunting is a very controversial subject and I am keen to see this important aspect of Inuit life.

We headed out in good weather by snow mobile. There are two different ways of hunting seals here, one involves placing nets under the ice and the other is hunting with a rifle. Today we would use a rifle and look for a seal hole which seals use to breath through the ice.

We quickly found a seal hole along a large crack in the sea ice and quickly got to work. The wind had increased heavily and the wind chill was more then a little freezing. Billy my guide and local vicar, took up a stance to the side of the hole. It was an amazing site as Billy completely froze to the spot, not even moving his feet to keep warm. I took the snow mobile and drove in a large circle around Billy hoping to bring the seal towards his seal hole. A seal could have a number of such holes and this occasion we didn't get a seal.

We moved on again and quickly came across a seal hole that had been devastated by a polar bear. The snow was red and the remains of a seal near by. In that moment it became very clear how adapted a polar bear is to survival here. We were having trouble trying to find seal holes due to the amount of snow on the ice and the wind but of course the polar bears sense of smell helps it locate seal under the snow and ice.

We found lots of evidence of polar bear including far to many fresh tracks to count. This was an area I was planning to ski through on my expedition but after seeing the remains of the seal and the number of tracks I am now looking at changing my plans. Food for thought, we didn't catch a seal but we did asses the polar bear threat, so it was a very worthwhile day.

Technology of the Inuit

The ancient Inuit possessed one of the most elaborate technologies of any non-industrial society in history. In a land where game was hard to find and harder to capture, it made sense to develop extremely efficient and dependable weapons; there were few second chances.

The most remarkable invention, the toggling harpoon and float, permitted the hunting of large sea mammals in open water. On entry, the specially designed harpoon head turned ingeniously sideways, leaving the shaft to fall away and the attached float to tire out the animal.

Friday, 13 March 2009

Councils aproval

Today's top tip, if your planning to film an expedition give it a lot of thought before hand. It is an extremely time consuming element of your project. It is a film project first and an expedition second. It can however be incredibly rewarding.

Today started on a high after attending the villages council meeting last night. I had been invited along as I believed it important to introduce myself to the village leaders and seek their approval to film their way of life. After everything I had heard I do not wish to appear as another white man with a camera, taking advantage of the villages problems.

I was very nervous about putting my case forward to the elder council and didn't want to come across in a bad light. I remember thinking, "What are they going to think of me?" I entered the chamber to find a circle of table and chairs, along with the Qikiqtarjuag and Canadian flags on the walls.

A photograph caught my eye straight away next to the Qikiqtarjuag flag, a photograph of the Queen. Of course Canada being a Common Wealth country, why shouldn't she be on the wall. I was just struck by the fact that here I was in the middle of the arctic and yet here was a photo of the Queen, obviously held in high regard. It was not the only one either, another showed her visit to the area a number of years ago.

One of the council members saw what I was looking at and asked the translator, "Did I know the Queen?"

"Unfortunately not" I replied, "she lives in a very big house a long way from my home"

Everyone laughed when my words were translated and I felt more at ease with the elders sense of humor, obviously made to make me feel more welcome. After a number of questions concerning my work and on the basis of my previous trips, the council agreed to allow me to film within their community.

Mayor Audlakiak gave a fantastic interview this morning about the history of Qikiqtarjuag as well as how the climate has changed since the villages founding in the early 1960's. Biggest changes he has seen concerns the ocean, he commented on the fact that there was never really any tide, now there is a very strong current in the bay. This has made some areas of ice dangerously thin making it unsafe too travel over.

Thursday, 12 March 2009

Transportation of the Inuit

With highly effective means of travel over sea ice and through open water, the Inuit quickly mastered the Canadian Arctic. The invention of the qamutik (dog sled) and umiak (women's boat) allowed them to cover great distances in search of game and to ferry large quantities of food and gear. The kayak, which was used to hunt game along the coasts in summer and at the sea ice edge in winter, however, was the cornerstone of the Inuit hunting economy.

Winter Camps

The ability to transport game vast distances by dog team and qamutik allowed most Inuit to build up food reserves and to remain in one place throughout the winter. Social activity increased during the winter, with games, religious festivities and ancient tales related in song and story, filling the social calendar. As the snow began to melt in exposed places, play, food preparation, equipment repair and other activities essential to life moved outdoors.

Sensitive issues

The past few days have been a very informative introduction to the extremely complex and controversial issues surrounding life in the arctic. The main focus of current discussion involves seal hunting as well as climate change.

For the Inuit, life is completely intertwined with their surrounding environment. Here in Qikiqtarjuag, the closest two other villages are Clyde River (about 500km north) and Pangnirtung (300 km south). There is no roads, there is no way of getting around apart from by plane, even snow mobiles are expensive with today's fuel prices. Even with a snow mobiles, if you break down away from home in the dead of winter, your in trouble, there is no AA to help you. Qikiqtarjuag with a population of around 500 is about as isolated as you can get.

For this reason food has to either be shipped in during the summer or flown in. Food is extremely expensive, a bottle of sunny delight is $20 or about 15 pounds. A small loaf of bread is $5 or 3.50 pounds. This, along with few jobs and the fact that their entire culture and tradition is based around hunting means that it is still a very strong occupation.

Nothing from a seal goes to waste, the meat is eaten and the skins are used for clothing as we have seen in a previous dispatch. Skins from animals that provide food but are not needed for personal clothing are sold, either as they are or made into items for tourists. This provides a much needed source of income and helps keep traditional skills alive.

Now here is the problem, the European Union is looking to ban all seal imports on the 2nd April. This based largely on the campaign against seal clubbing, does indeed allow for traditionally Inuit caught skins to still be traded, or so it says.

The reality here in Qikiqtarjuag is that the European market has completely dried up, due to a change in fashion, public opinion and so has had a massive impact on individual incomes. The local tannery has closed and so the only way to make money is to sell direct to tourists or to the local conservation officer who buys the skins for $60.

Everywhere I go with my camera I get asked, "Are you Greenpeace?" People say that some filming was done here and around Baffin's communities recently under false pretences and has caused an underlying cautiousness and unwillingness to be caught on camera.

Whatever these circumstances maybe, I need to do some further research and questioning. It is a very interesting and delicate situation, if there is no markets for seal products then hunting skills will be lost. I have seen Elders teaching tradition net making and seal skin testament classes in the hope to pass on these skills. A kind of evening class.

The danger is clear. Without these tradition skills, which makes up the core of Inuit cultural identity, then they will cease to be Inuit. There is few jobs as it is and the bedrock of village society will be lost. No wander people are cautious about being filmed on camera.

You also have to understand that this is a people that until about 100 years ago, largely lived a nomadic life style. The elders feel as if culture has gone from stone age to the space age in a very short time, which in itself is a credit to their ability to adapt and there strength to persevere.

Our actions in the western world, is not only threatening this fragile icy world but also challenges the way of life of an entire people. To be reliant on supermarkets up here is a crazy and expensive notion, not to mention morally wrong.

Can more be done to promote Inuit crafts in Europe as well as control and monitor the number of seals and how seals are hunted? Inuit do not club seals and I will be joining a local hunt to record these traditional skills later this week.

A big thank you needs to go out to Emma Wilson and Plymouth University's Climate Change Society for raising funds and awarness for myself and Comic Relief.

Also to Katy Cuckston and Paignton Community College for their donation to the expedition. It is greatly appreciated.

Wednesday, 11 March 2009

School visit

Today I had the pleasure of giving a talk at the local local school. I decided to focus on showing a slide show of some of the places that I have visited around the world, as well as some of my most memorable experiences.

I wanted to focus on some of the outdoor sports I have done and how they have had an impact in my life. I am a strong believer in outdoor education and how it can help inspire and teach addition life skills like team work and improve self confidence. I was pleased to learn that the school had just started a snowboard club, so I was very keen to share my experiences as a snowboard instructor in Austria and the UK.

The students also enjoyed learning about other peoples around the world, especially about the Sami people in Scandinavia. I talked about how the Sami heard reindeer and how they race reindeer.

Traditional Winter Houses

The traditional winter dwelling of the Inuit was a perfect solution to housing land virtually devoid of wood. Constructed of rock, whalebone, skin and sod, with sunken floors and entrances that trapped cold air, these dwellings enabled Inuit families to spend long arctic winters in relative comfort.