July 24, 2007
Study: Rising Temperatures Pose Danger
TORONTO -- Rising temperatures in eastern Canada are making it more dangerous for the native Inuit population in the province of Quebec to travel and hunt by snowmobile, and a new study recommends that they return to using the traditional dogsled.
A recent report on climate change in Quebec's Arctic region stresses that warming temperatures are forcing the Inuit to rethink how they get around, which is mainly by Skidoo snowmobile.
"For the last 10 years or so we've had winters that are more mild, so ice forms later in autumn and winter," Martin Tremblay, a geographic researcher who led the study, said Tuesday.
"One of the most effective means of transport is the Skidoo, and the period when it can be used is shorter than before. It causes security problems, because the ice is thinner and more unstable."
Tremblay's report was prepared for the Kativik regional government and offers several recommendations to deal with climate change, among the most striking being a return to Inuit's traditional means of transport - dog sleds.
Tremblay points out that dogsleds are a fair bit lighter than Skidoos and well-trained dogs can sense precarious patches of ice.
His recommendation is being embraced by many for reasons that extend beyond safety.
Organizers of Ivakkak, Nunavik's annual dogsled race, say encouraging dogsled use and breeding pure Huskies will do much to preserve an Inuit tradition under threat.
"The dogs were part of their nomadic life and it was taken from them," said Ivakkak coordinator Isabelle Dubois, referring to allegations that tens of thousands of sled dogs were slaughtered during the 1950s and '60s.
"It's a way of life that has disappeared and the dogs are at the base of that way of life."
For Dubois, it is important to show younger generations of Inuit that the knowledge of their elders can provide answers to modern problems.
Indeed, many of Tremblay's findings are based on interviews with experienced Inuit hunters and elders, which complement the study's more scientific findings.
"All the experienced hunters have learned how to recognize meteorological conditions," he said in a phone interview from Kuujjuaq, some 1,500 kilometers (932 miles) north of the city of Montreal.
"What they've noticed is that the weather is becoming more and more unpredictable."
Tremblay said his research team plans to compile the knowledge it gathered from elders on a CD-ROM, and make it available to younger Inuit.