Species that form the basis of indigenous lifestyles -whales, seals, reindeer, and many birds- are under increasing threat from climate change. Impacts include melting permafrost in Arctic Canada reported by Inuit hunters, severe extreme weather events in the Russian North, loss of winter ice in hunting territories in Unalakleet, Alaska, ice rain that freezes the ground in the Sámi´s homelands, arrival of new species to the North and warming of the previous cold ocean waters.
“The Sámi have an ecological knowledge of their own, rooted in the traditional way of life. They have their own knowledge derived from experience, long-term observation, and the utilization of natural resources. This knowledge is best expressed and transmitted through the Sámi language,” says Sámi researcher Elina Helander.
Local impacts have economic, cultural and social ramifications. Indigenous knowledge can offer important insights into climate data. These climate change observations build on countless generations, since time immemorial. This November, Reykjavík will witness scientists, together with policymakers, and representatives of the indigenous organisations launch the Arctic Climate Impact Assessment; ACIA.
ACIA is the most significant assessment of changing climate in the North. The Kyoto Protocol is the policy tool to limit greenhouse gasses. The USA pulled out of Kyoto in 2001 and in fact delayed the release of the ACIA until after the elections. The launch of ACIA is a historic event in the Arctic. Not only does it confirm findings of the international studies on global warming, but it is the first report of its kind to recognize ”Indigenous observations of climate change”. This means that local knowledge of circumpolar cultures that has enabled them to survive for millennia has finally been recognised officially.
We have now discovered that the unlimited misuse of fossil fuels by the richest countries has changed our climate. With the messages of the ACIA report in mind we stand at a crossroads. Russia has decided to ratify the Kyoto Protocol. We have a historic chance to let go of the abusive, colonial past in the Arctic. By working together with local participants we can document and re-learn traditional knowledge from the people who still know the land. I hope that Arctic representatives in Reykjavik will listen and understand these messages.
Tero Mustonen is a Finnish poet and a fisherman who manages Snowchange, a project to collect local observations of change across the Arctic. He is living in Akureyri, teaching at the Social and Economic Development Department of the University of Akureyri.