Our children no longer know the place names of our hunting grounds, nor have they travelled across the ice bridge that links these lands.
This is what we are hearing.
We are travelling in a 40-year-old vessel, the Adolf Jensen, making stubborn progress through icy swell whipped up by the first storms of September. Today we are in Savissivik listening to hunters. We’re heading south stopping in the hamlets along Melville Bay, having visited Qaanaaq and Siorapaluk — the most northern community in the world.
Most of the beautiful villages in this region lack airstrips. The sea is their link to the outside world. Sled dogs wait on the shore. There’s a foot of new snow, a reminder that winter will soon return. Sea ice, critical to travel and as a hunting platform, allows these villagers to live from the bounty of Pikialasorsuaq, the Great Upwelling, the North Water polynya.
The hunters of Savissivik today are generously sharing with us their knowledge. A recurring theme is instability, unpredictability, changes in migration patterns, new species, and open water where there should be ice. They also talk of political change. And, of borders that separate them from a time not so long ago when they could still travel across the polynya’s great ice arch that links Umimmat Nunaat (Ellesmere Island) and Greenland, linking these communities of Pikialasorsuaq to the hunting grounds on Ellesmere.
As we heard last Spring when we travelled to Canadian communities linked to Pikialasorsuaq, Inuit here are best placed to monitor and manage this region. They want to lead and set the research agenda, study the indicators of change and establish more realistic hunting regulations that will sustain their communities.
Inuit on both sides are expressing a strong desire for free movement, once again, of Inuit across Pikialasorsuaq and increased cooperation to arrive at a common vision for shared resources and Inuit-led management of Pikialasorsuaq. Similar concerns over increased tourism, shipping, fishing, resource exploration and seismic testing in the Pikialasorsuaq are being heard on both sides of Pikialasorsuaq. Most emphatically, we want to rebuild a caretaking regime for the polynya together as Inuit living, though divided by country, from one sea.
Pikialasorsuaq, or “Great Upwelling,” is the largest Arctic polynya and the most biologically productive region north of the Arctic Circle. Pikialasorsuaq has been recognized by Inuit for generations as critical habitat. Communities in the Qikiqtani and Avanersuaq regions continue to rely on the polynya’s biological productivity. Pikialasorsuaq is vital to many migratory species upon which these communities, as well as farther afield, depend. In some recent years, the northern ice bridge in Kane Basin, Nares Strait and Smith Sound (Ikeq) has become less reliable and the polynya less defined. The consequences of these changes, linked to larger climatic shifts observable in many parts of the Arctic, are not known.
Led by three Commissioners, Okalik Eegeesiak (chair of the Inuit Circumpolar Council) the International Commissioner, Eva Aariak (former Premier of Nunavut) the Canadian Commissioner, and Kuupik Kleist (former Greenland Premier) the Greenland Commissioner, the Pikialasorsuaq Commission is mandated to conduct consultations in the communities in Nunavut and Greenland that are closely connected to Pikialasorsuaq. With the support of the Oak Foundation, Oceans North and World Wildlife Fund, the Commissioners have undertaken consultations with Canadian Inuit communities in April (Grise Fiord, Resolute, Arctic Bay, Pond Inlet and Clyde River) and in Northern Greenland in September to hear from Inuit on the Greenlandic side of the Pikialasorsuaq (Siorapaluk, Qaanaaq, Savissivik, Kullorsuaq, Nuussuaq and Upernavik). The consultations are designed to facilitate local and regional input, to incorporate indigenous knowledge, and to recommend an Inuit strategy for safeguarding, monitoring and management of the health of Pikialasorsuaq for future generations.
Okalik Eegeesiak, Eva Aariak and Kuupik Kleist, The Pikialasorsuaq Commission