Thursday, 12 March 2009

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.

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