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Uqalurait: the snow is speaking


23 November 2009


Inuit are telling us their climate change stories in their mother tongue - the Inuktitut language. It's important that the elders and hunters are speaking in their own language, given that their teachings are both holistic and detailed, and are best communicated in Inuktitut. Today's story is about uqalurait: the snow drifts shaped like a tongue (see blog photo).

Consistently, across all the communities we have engaged with, Inuit have told us that uqalurait have changed. These tongue-shaped drifts are formed at the first snowfall by the north wind, which for as long as Inuit can remember, has been the dominant wind that brings the cold. Importantly, they are necessary directional markers on the land, which allow Inuit to navigate properly while traveling by either dogteam or skidoo in the day or night.

Traditionally, the tip of the uqalurait have pointed northwards, and acted almost like a compass needle providing a directional point of reference. Inuit knew that if they traveled with uqalurait, they'd be moving on a north-south axis, and by crossing them, this would lead along an east-west axis. This remarkable knowledge of the land ensured safe travel for thousands of years across this vast and cold territory.

However, the direction of uqalurait has shifted, and are now being formed by the south wind. The south wind is now stronger and is bringing warmer weather from the south. Amazingly, Inuit have adapted their orienteering on the land using uqalurait, and are approaching them at different angles to compensate for the changes, ensuring that they still travel safely in winter. This is another perfect example of the adaptability, ingenuity and robustness of Inuit knowledge.

In today's video post, Abraham Ullijuruluk, an Igloolik elder, describes that uqalurait are changing because the earth itself has "tilted" and has thrown off the consistent wind patterns of the past. The earth tilting on its axis is another re-occuring observation that we are hearing from Inuit, which they know because of how the sun, moon and stars have changed in the sky. Indeed, elders simultaneously know the complexities of the cosmos, land, wind and sky, and in Inuktitut, are able to communicate it effortlessly and without doubt.

Both Inuit and the snow itself are speaking, using their mother tongues to express the profound changes that are taking place in the north. The message is clear: the predictable nature of nature is changing; and, if we hope to survive, we must adapt. We hope that, wherever you are, you hear this message, internalize it, and seek to live sustainably in and learn to adapt to this changing world we all call home.

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More from this channel: Ian Mauro's Blog on Inuit Knowledge and Climate Change