October 31, 2018

INSTRUCTIONS FOR BEING ICE AND SNOW

Iqaluit, Nunavut

Photo credits: Annecia Adlam, Lael Kronick, and Devora Neumark

Having moved to Nunavut in September 2018, I found myself somatically and emotionally experiencing what I had known intellectually for some time: climate change was impacting, first and foremost, the Arctic regions of the planet.1

Following the performance series that I co-created with JuPong Lin in 2017, titled Instructions for Being Water: A Performance Score that took up the issue of climate change and environmental justice in Vermont and Washington State, I initiated a new live art event in my new home, Iqaluit. The performance – “Instructions for Being Ice and Snow” – was carried out with the participation of (mostly Inuit) students from the local high school following preparatory sessions during which we discussed how performance art matters in addressing climate change. The score took shape during these sessions as the students spoke of their first-hand knowledge and family traditions.

Once gathered, we focused on the lighting of the qulliq (traditional Inuit oil lamp) while giving thanks to the ecosystem that sustained life in the north for millennia. The event continued with explorations of/in the snow, poetry recitation, throat singing, the sharing of freshly cooked caribou stew & tea.

Participants unanimously and enthusiastically responded yes when asked if they wanted to follow up this performance with new land-based, climate-related events.

Post-performance observations, made by the high school student participants, included:

  • “I learned to relax and pay attention to what’s near me.”
  • “I learned that if we’re going on the land [we have to] be prepared for any weather.”
  • “Throat signing and deeply appreciating my land helped me connect with myself.”

Specifically on the subject of climate change, participants wrote:

  • “I learned different ways that climate change affects the land, from the elders’ perspectives.”
  • “I will try and be more aware of what’s going on with the land.”
  • “Yesterday I learned that the kamiks [traditional Inuit footwear, sometimes spelled kamiit] I was wearing were not warm and they hurt my feet. I also realized that our land is so beautiful, and you can visibly see climate change with the lack of snow.”

Observations about climate change gathered from local Iqaluit Elders were read out loud towards the end of the event.2 Note that some of these Elders have passed away since the time of their recorded observations in March 2002.

“We used to get more blizzards, really strong blizzards. But, the blizzard season is fairly short (now). These days we are getting fewer blizzards but more windy days.”

Jimmy Koomarjuk

“Nowadays we are getting wind from everywhere. The winds are shifty and constantly changing their point of origin. The weather signs point towards a clear calm day, but the winds suddenly whips up and that is how it seems to operate in this day and age.”

Elaiya Mike

“(Sea ice) has really changed, big time. I recall (in my youth) that the ice never used to go out until July. Then the ice would soon reform within a matter of two months. It used to get cold quite early even before November. I recall that we would have ice, really thick ice by November. Usually, by the first week of November, the ice was useable and we could go places. There would be quite a bit of snow on the ground, prior to the ice freezing over.”

Johnny Nowdlak

“Most of the areas that we use for our travel are not as useable and due to the lack of snow, they are not really navigable. It has really affected some of the hunters as the lack of snow is hindering the harvesters. Although we would want to go hunting inland, it was getting tiresome waiting for the snow to arrive so that we could use our snow machines to go hunting with. It was quite an unnerving experience especially since this is so unusual to not have snow on the ground for weeks at a time.”

Mosesee Tiglik

“The snow is really hard now. Although it would not seem to be hard, it would still be all drift snow. And, the snow crystals you would expect to find under this snow, pukajaaq, there seems to be no more occurrences anymore. Perhaps this is due to the wind. Although we find some crystals, they are not the same. Generally, you find them in areas where there is some wind, but also some protection. There is hardly any more pukajaaq snow.”

Simeonie Kownirq

“The lakes and rivers are starting to get mushy earlier and they become impassable in only a few days. Even before the traditional time of ice melting, the ice is getting dangerous to traverse. The lakes have thinner ice and [the ice] does not hang around. These days the ice melts earlier and becomes crystallized way earlier where you cannot stand on it.”

Elaiya Mike

“The lakes and rivers are starting to get mushy earlier and they become impassable in only a few days. Even before the traditional time of ice melting, the ice is getting dangerous to traverse. The lakes have thinner ice and [the ice] does not hang around. These days the ice melts earlier and becomes crystallized way earlier where you cannot stand on it.”

Elaiya Mike

“I have noticed the changes and especially this last year. It has not really snowed at all this year. In that I mean a real snowstorm, and we have yet to experience a blizzard this winter. There are reports of blizzards on the radio, but that is only natiruviaq, a small blizzard, not a real one.”

Mosesee Joami

“In the winter, you used to see the ice fog that would form when it got really cold, past –40C. That is what does not occur as much. It used to be common from January and February. Whenever the wind dies down, the cold would produce ice fog. It never gets that cold in Iqaluit anymore, not for the long stretches that it used to.”

Johnny Nowdlak


Footnotes

#1

See for example, An Integrated Regional Impact Study of Climate Change and Modernization: From Science to Policy in the Eastern Canadian Arctic, ArcticNet, Quebec. 2018.

#2

http://www.city.iqaluit.nu.ca/sites/default/files/iqaluit_sustainable_community_plan.pdf