Nittaituq, the Inuit facing climate change | Polarjournal
Nittaituq means “weather with poor visibility” in Inuktitut. Image: Nittaituq

When two scientists team up with a filmmaker, the result is Nittaituq. A short film made in a Nunavut village, documenting the Inuit’s approach to climate change.

Released last January, Nittaituq first sprouted in the mind of Flore Sergeant, a hydrogeologist who was then doing her doctorate at Laval University in Quebec: “I wanted to launch a documentary project on the North after attending lectures given by Indigenous people, where they explained their conception of global warming, which was completely different from what I thought,” she explains. The project became more concrete when she met, as part of the Sentinel North program, Mathilde Poirier, a post-doctoral biology researcher who regularly visited Mittimatalik (Pond Inlet) for her research. Joined by independent filmmaker Camille Poirier, the trio of directors travel to this village of 1 500 inhabitants in May 2022.

With its superb shots, the 16-minute short film gives pride of place to Inuit speech. The directors in fact step aside in favor of their four interlocutors, Andrew Arreak, Sylvia Pewatoalook, Rhoda Arnakallak and Jayko Alooloo. Two young people and two elders who bring their testimony to a changing world.

As caribou becoming rarer and the ice thinner, the elders notice the changes and continue to pass on the traditional knowledge that has enabled the Inuit to survive in these regions. With a paradox: “On the ice, you rely on the knowledge that was passed on to you, but it’s not the same ice conditions as our elders were growing up”, points out Andrew Arreak, who manages the SmartICE project within the community.

In a world in upheaval, some essential activities are becoming dangerous. Hunting is one of them. Ice becomes unstable, melts faster and can become a death trap for hunters. While activity is essential for nourishment, it also remains a strong cultural trait for the Inuit. Image: Nittaituq

SmartICE integrates Inuit knowledge and delivers information on ice conditions by mapping areas that are freezing, where there is hard ice or cracks. The aim is to ensure safe travel on the ice. And to achieve this, SmartICE uses scientific data such as satellite mapping. A project that doesn’t stop at the borders of Pond Inlet, Andrew Arreak travels extensively to neighboring communities to train residents in the use of SmartICE. “I’m not saying it’s replacing our traditional knowledge, both can work together and have a better outcome.” he says in the documentary.

As with the rest of the Arctic, this region at the tip of Baffin Island is warming at a rapid rate, leading to changes in the environment. “We had the chance to interview some elders, people who have lived in this area for over 70 years and who see the landscape changing. What surprised us most was that, despite all these changes, they did not talk about it in an alarmist way. It was rather a discourse of resilience that emerged in the discussions.”, notes Mathilde Poirier.

The short film directors. From left to right, Flore Sergeant, Mathilde Poirier and Camille Poirier.

It is more the opening up of these isolated regions that seems to be feared by the inhabitants. “Melting ice, more opened water that means we’ll definitely have more ships coming up and exporting the North,” says one Mittimatalik resident. This has a significant impact on marine flora and fauna, from the noise produced by these boats to the potential introduction of invasive species. “In the last ten years, a major mine has been built 100 kilometers from the village, which has created concerns in the community,” explains Mathilde Poirier. “It’s very present in the speeches and it’s the meaning of this phrase: exporting the North. It refers to the ships that come to get the minerals. Some people think it creates jobs, others that it puts pressure on the environment. Industrialization is an issue and it affects the local people a lot.

Faced with these issues, global warming is perceived differently by the community. “In our first interviews, we mainly focused our questions on global warming, a subject much discussed in the South”, notes Flore Sergeant, “But our interviewees didn’t really see what it was all about. They were looking at global warming from other angles, like industrialization for example, or the impact of changes on their day-to-day work, like sewing or fishing.”

After a first screening in Louisiana in the United States, the film will embark on its festival tour. It will be screened on February 14 during Polar Night, an event organized by Laval University that brings together scientists for an evening of networking and lectures. Then it’s off to Iqaluit, where the film has been selected for the Nunavut International Film Festival from February 22 to 25.

The short film, which has a Facebook page, should be available online next year.

Mirjana Binggeli, PolarJournal

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