A final blow came in the 1950s when the government, battling a tuberculosis outbreak, forcibly evacuated every Inuk to a hospital ship to be screened. Those who tested positive, roughly one in five, immediately were shipped south for treatment, many never to return. The psychological impacts on both those evacuated and those left behind were profound, and not dissimilar to what families endured when their children were forcibly removed from the home to be educated for years at residential schools hundreds of kilometres to the south where they were forbidden to speak their language, denied the comfort of their culture, and often subjected to sexual and psychological abuse.
This, then, is the tragedy and perhaps the inspiration of the Arctic. A people that have endured so much – epidemic disease, the humiliation and violence of the residential schools, the culture of poverty inherent in the welfare system, drug and alcohol exposure leading to suicide rates six times that of southern Canada – now on the very eve of their emergence as a culture reborn politically, socially, and psychologically, find themselves confronted by a force beyond their capacity to resist. The ice is melting, and with it quite possibly a way of life.
Climate change for most Canadians is seen as a technical and scientific challenge, distant from their lives. The Inuit live its reality every day. They are a people of the ice. As hunters they depend on it for their survival even as it inspires the very essence of their character and culture. Indeed it is the very nature of ice, the way it moves, recedes, dissolves, and reforms with the seasons, that gives such flexibility to the Inuit heart and spirit. They have no illusions of permanence. There is no time for regret. Despair is an insult to the imagination. Their grocery store is out there on the land. To live they must kill the things they most love. Blood on ice in the Arctic is not a sign of death, but an affirmation of life. Death is the disappearance of the ice. Climate change for the Inuit is not an environmental or political issue, but rather an issue of cultural survival, with profound psychological and indeed spiritual implications.
Michael Byers: Few southerners appreciate the enormousness of the Arctic region. The Arctic accounts for roughly one-sixth of the Earth’s surface. Canada is the second largest country in the world, and 40 per cent of it is Arctic. Russia is the largest country in the world, and 40 per cent of it is Arctic. The region, moreover, is centered on an ocean that measures thousands of kilometers across. The North Pole itself is located more than 700 kilometers north of Greenland and the northernmost islands of Canada and Russia. All this geography means that each of the Arctic countries already has huge, uncontested land territories and maritime zones.
Rob Huebert: First, most southern Canadians need to understand that in many ways northerners are as diverse as are southerners. There is a tendency in the south to speak of northerners as if they all share the exact same values, interests, likes, dislikes as one homogenous group. This just is not true. In many ways, there is as much diversity within the North as there is in the South. Some favour economic development, some want to protect the environment; some want more government action in their lives, some less; and the list goes on. One size does not fit all. Southern tendencies to lump northerners together as if they all have the same views, hopes, wishes, beliefs simply demonstrates that southerners are not willing to appreciate the true complexity and diversity of what the Canadian North has become.