Nunavut environment minister defends Inuit traditional knowledge at Paris conference
“We have made sure to always incorporate and talk to local people"
Inuit are living proof of the value of traditional knowledge, Nunavut’s environment minister, Johnny Mike, told an Arctic-themed conference in Paris over the weekend.
Mike used his Dec. 12 keynote address at the Arctic Encounter symposium — a side event at the COP21 climate change talks — to promote the benefits of using both science and traditional Inuit knowledge, or Inuit Qaujimajatuqangit, as a way to both mitigate climate change and adapt to it.
“People often ask if this knowledge is valuable,” Mike told an audience at Paris’ École Militaire Dec. 12.
“Yes, the proof of its value standing before you. I guarantee my ancestors would not have survived over a thousand years in the unforgiving Arctic without Inuit Qaujimajatuqangit.”
The principles of IQ are not as quantitative as western science, Mike said, but require watching, observing, listening and doing.
“This traditional knowledge on how to hunt, navigate the land and water and our ice is passed on by our elders from generation to generation,” he said in his address.
“We have made sure to always incorporate and talk to local people, as they are the ones who live and breathe their very own environment.”
Mike referred to scientific research conducted through the 2000s on Nunavut’s western Hudson Bay polar bear population, which predicted the gradual decline of the population due to a changing climate.
Those predictions turned out to be inaccurate, Mike said, noting later studies done in collaboration with local Inuit that found the population to be stable.
That led the Government of Nunavut to approve a modest increase in the quota for that population earlier this year, from 24 to 28 polar bears.
Nunavut has shown that these two forms of science can complement each other and together be used to form policy and programs to better mitigate the impacts of climate change, Mike told the Arctic Encounter participants.
“It is now ever more important for the need to work together to ensure that scientific knowledge and knowledge from Indigenous people in all parts of the world is taken seriously, and is used and valued in the decision-making process,” he said.
Mike’s speech to Arctic Encounter took place just hours before the final text of the Paris Agreement was adopted Dec. 12.
The 31-page, legally-binding document commits to keeping the world’s mean temperature ride “well below” two degrees Celsius and to limit that to 1.5 degrees above pre-industrial levels.
But Inuit and Indigenous groups have said the agreement falls short of recognizing their rights and providing funding for their communities to cope with climate change.
The 195 parties to the agreement plan to meet again in 2018 to discuss progress.