Maatalii Oka­lik


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.

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