How Climate Change has impacted the Arctic Ecosystem


 |  Biodiversity/Conservation

Inuit Sovereignty is Essential to Arctic Ringed Seals

Most people know about our fluffy, fierce friends, the polar bears. A lot of people also know that the Arctic is very cold; creatures living there need to be TOUGH. Seals are other friends we can find in the Arctic northern areas of the world. Unfortunately, the Arctic is currently suffering a great deal from climate change. With melting ice, warming sea waters, and more erratic weather, these chilly regions are experiencing major changes. This affects the polar bears; it also affects their main food source, the ringed seals.

Photo by Yuriy Rzhemovskiy on Unsplash

Yes, they are very cute. These soft, chubby pals are essential to the livelihood of polar bears, and they are threatened in the Arctic. They rely upon different types of ice and the presence of snow to build their caves, known as subnivean lairs. These lairs are used to give birth, raise their pups, and hide from predators (mostly polar bears). They need access to ice year-round, and they need the right amount of snow and ice to build their dens. However, as the snowfall dwindles and snow melts sooner, ringed seals are unable to build and maintain their homes. 

This is a result of climate change and its impact on snow coverage and ice availability, thereby resulting in many health problems. For example, ringed seal pups are being separated from their mothers earlier than usual because pupping and nursing lairs cannot be maintained, and early ice breakup separates them physically.

So now the question is, how can we help these blubbery friends?

To answer that, we must first ask who cares the most about ringed seals. Those who care the most about these creatures are the most impacted by their dwindling populations. Whoever is living in the North likely cares the most about them, and that refers mainly to Inuit (“the people” in Inuktitut).

Ringed seals are essential to Inuit ways of living. They are used for food, clothes, storage, oil for lamps, and more. So essential in fact that the Nunavut government Nature’s Edge sealing magazine declares “the seal is an important resource from an ecological point of view and without them, there would probably be no Inuit today.” In documentaries produced by and about Inuit, you see ringed seals being present in many of the daily activities.

There is a profound need for food security in the North. Since hunting and traditional ways of eating are being threatened by climate change, colonialism, and ironically, animal rights activists, Inuit have to rely on buying food to round out their diets. Yet, food prices are exceedingly high

Government agencies are beginning to work with Northern communities to deal with this problem, but we need to act fast.

So how can we help ringed seals?

Listen to Inuit activists, academics (and this includes Inuit Elders and Knowledge Keepers, not just Western academics), government, etc. To be an ally you need to listen to Inuit.

We need Inuit land reclamation and sovereignty because in addition to upholding basic human rights, restoring and nurturing Inuit ways of being also fosters greater environmental sustainability in the North. As recognized by Inuit, Sovereignty is an evolving term involving “recognition and respect for our right to self-determination.”  Inuit sovereignty and the right to govern their land is threatened by industrial expansion into the Arctic, authorized by the Canadian government. Self-determination begins with meeting basic needs and rights, like food security.

Help push for greater ownership of Inuit land by minimizing colonial ownership of Arctic regions. Ensure that the sources of information you are looking at to take action are from Inuit’s perspectives. This can involve signing petitions pushed forward by Inuit community members on stopping or minimizing industrial expansion, supporting Inuit sovereignty and self-determination by supporting Inuit businesses, and listening to the needs of Inuit communities. Advocate for Inuit self-governance and Inuit-led research. Commit to furthering the Truth and Reconciliation Calls to Action by holding our government accountable through correspondence and activism.

Some Inuit activists whose work to follow:

Tanya Tagaq

Shina Novalinga

Alethea Arnaquq-Baril

Make sure to listen to a diversity of voices, because, as Plains Cree activist Shayla Stonechild says, “be careful of putting people you follow on pedestals, because the reality is – we are just humans. Like you.”

Protecting and advocating for Inuit communities will protect ringed seals, and it will do so much more than that.