How Greenlanders feel about the changing sea ice?

by Kangasaho Vilma, Lehmusjärvi Tuuli, Leppäkoski Janne, López i Losada Raül, Markussen Ullunguaq

-“I was born with ice around. If there was none, something would be wrong or not in balance”

As a part of our project, in Greenland we interviewed local people about their relationship with sea ice.

We wanted to interview people who have direct connection with sea ice, like getting their income and livelihood from it. Because of the time and locality constraints, we could not reach any people directly living off sea ice. Finding them at random is quite an unlikely event. The amount of traditional hunters and fishermen in Greenland has gone down rapidly. In 2013 there were less than 1800 people living on traditional livelihoods, and that was half of the number it was only 10 years earlier.

In total we interviewed 10 persons, of which 9 were males, and 1 female. The age distribution was from 20s to late 60s. The interviews were made in Nuuk and also in Kapisillit, a fishing village located in Uummannap Sullua fjord, about 100 km east from Nuuk.

We asked the interviewees their name, age, hometown (place of birth) and the following five questions

  1. Is there sea ice in your hometown?
  2. Has the sea ice changed in your experience?
  3. What does sea ice means to you / Activities?
  4. If there is no ice… how would that make you feel?
  5. Do you think Climate change is good or bad for Greenland?

We tried to make the questions as unbiased as possible, meaning that they would not lead the interviewee to any direction that might affect the answer. We probably succeeded in that, as we got quite diverse and formulated opinions from the people we interviewed.

There is practically no sea ice in Nuuk, so we tried to find people who would be from places with sea ice. In Kapisillit there is some sea ice in the area, though it was widely mentioned that extent has diminished from what it used to be, and the depth and quality of the ice has gotten worse. We found some people from areas of seasonal firm sea ice (eg. Tasiilaq in east Greenland).

-“Sea ice reminds you about who you are

Sea ice plays noticeable role within Greenlandic culture and identity. Loss of sea ice can also mean that part of the people living in Greenland will lose part of their fundamental identity. The importance of the sea ice on the identity can also be seen from the fact that many of the interviewees said that they had never thought about not having sea ice in their lives. Also the aesthetic properties, such as sunlight glittering on the ice and the beauty of the winter sea ice were mentioned being important.

For the hunters knowing how to move on the sea ice is crucial. When they are children, they play on the ice and jump from one ice floe to another. Sometimes they fall into water, but this is a part of an important process to learn how to move on the ice and understand it’s behaviour. It is about being connected with the nature by direct experience, something that is not often practised in the western world.

There is also a spiritual dimension. The Mother of the Sea, Sedna, is the most famous of all Greenlandic legends, the goddess of the marine mammals. Sedna will punish the people by taking the animals away if they do not behave and show respect to nature. From this perspective, it was bit of a surprise to see that in Greenland there was rubbish thrown away into the nature.

So the sea ice has always represented possibilities and also food in the old Greenlandic history.

-“It means food, and possibility to get to the food. When there is ice, you can go places you really can’t go otherwise. Also you always can’t go those places using boat cause gas is very expensive and all the people don’t necessarily can afford it

If the sea ice is lost, one more direct connection with the nature is lost. Of course for some, especially for people working with modern methods, the sea ice can be more of a hindrance. For example sea ice can make it harder to navigate with boats.

We also asked about the meaning of climate change for Greenland. Most of the interviewees we spoke with thought that climate change has two sides. It can be good for South Greenland as it gives more farming and fishing opportunities there. For more remote areas in North and East Greenland, where the culture is still more dependent on ice conditions, climate change has more likely negative effects. For example seals are more easily caught on sea ice than on open water.

In the end the sociology aspect of the course was an interesting experience to widen our perspective (as most of us were natural scientists) to have some first-hand experience of the viewpoint of the social sciences. It was also interesting how tedious it is to take notes while interviewing people, and the hardship of containing the real message in the interview notes.

-”There is no same kind of beautiness than with sea ice anywhere else in the world”

One thought on “How Greenlanders feel about the changing sea ice?”

  1. I think sea ice is important for polar bears and seals as well as humans!


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