Western Tour: Yellowknife – Land of the Midnight Sun
At this time of year the sun literally never sets in Yellowknife and after a long, cold, dark winter it’s easy to understand why people may shun indoor events. Nevertheless, on Tuesday night a committed group of people chose to spend their evening in a windowless room in the Yellowknife United Church to learn more about the impact of climate change — half-way around the world and in their own backyard — and what to do about it.
KAIROS partner Francois Pihaatee from Tahiti talked about how climate change has transformed the waters of the South Pacific. Whereas the ocean was once seen as something that gives and nourishes life, now it is also seen as a serious threat to life as rising sea levels begin to erode and submerge the islands his people call home. Francois talked about the connectedness of all things, and emphasized the importance of working together to find solutions. Individually we’re like raindrops, he said, quoting a popular saying, but together we can be an ocean of change.
Yellowknives Dene member Fred Sangris was raised on the land. His parents used dog sleds to get around and followed the caribou herds. Today, Fred explained, the land is changing and the caribou are disappearing. Waters that used to freeze solid in winter are now too dangerous to travel on because the ice is too thin. Unprecedented rains in the middle of winter that freeze solid when temperatures fall back to normal create an impenetrable barrier between the caribou and their food source which normally would be easily accessible underneath the snow. The precipitous decline in the numbers of some herds — from 120,000 a few decades ago to less than 20,000 today, for example — is due in part to mass starvation.
Doug Ritchie, with Yellowknife-based Ecology North, underlined the links between the events described by Francois and Fred and our society’s seemingly insatiable and unsustainable addiction to fossil fuels. He stressed the need for action, and the importance of remaining positive and optimistic even when bombarded by such overwhelming and discouraging stories.
In the second part of the evening people talked about the need to take responsibility for what’s happening and acknowledged the challenges. Corporate greed was identified as a formidable obstacle to decreasing our dependency on fossil fuels and increasing our use of renewable resources. People talked about identifying best practices and of letting go of unsustainable ones. Instead of building houses that increase our dependency on fossil fuels, for instance, someone mentioned the need to explore building homes that use alternative energy sources, including solar and wood.
Everyone agreed these kinds of gatherings are crucial, and that there is a dire need for broader public dialogue. People need to talk about what can be done to create a sustainable economy. People also need to talk more about values and to reveal relationships that are not always that obvious.
Thanks to the Dene Nation, Ecology North, the local churches and the people of Yellowknife for making the evening so successful. Tomorrow we go fishing.