The president of the National Inuit Youth Council reflects on climate change and Canada’s Inuit
Perhaps nowhere in Canada are the effects of climate change more keenly felt than in the Arctic, where the Inuit who inhabit the region have experienced decades of irrevocable change. As a voice for Inuit youth, Maatalii Okalik brought that perspective to the world stage at the COP21 climate conference in Paris last year. Here, she discusses Inuit youth and how climate change is affecting her people. Despite the fact that many Inuit now work from 9 to 5, go to post-secondary institutions and have bills to pay, they still have an interest in and love of the land. Inuit youth want to continue an Inuit way of life, in terms of the relationship they have with the land, the water and the sea ice, and as natural environmentalists. The council currently has five priority areas: Inuit language, culture and practices, suicide prevention, education and empowerment, and reconciliation. We work together to champion those priorities through, for example, a social media campaign around suicide prevention (#Celebratelife) and the National Inuit Youth Summit, held every two years. I believe it has an impact on all of the council’s priority areas, including the high rates of Inuit suicide. Inuit are in an identity crisis because of the assimilation policies forced on us in the last two generations, which have caused a breakdown of Inuit language and cultural practices. It has affected our freedom to live the Inuit way of life, and the changing environment has just made it harder and more dangerous for us to do that. In our homelands, we experience changes in global temperatures many times greater than other places. For decades, our elders have been crying out about the impacts of climate change, but what they have said has been discounted by the scientific community. I was very pleased to be part of the Arctic delegation and indigenous peoples’ caucus at COP21 and to speak from that perspective. I raised awareness about who we are, our history, our relationship with the environment and our concerns around climate change.
On the National Inuit Youth Council’s goals Maatalii Okalik says climate change is making it harder and more dangerous for Inuit to maintain their way of life.