Colleen Slebzak

Anthropological Review

Do Glaciers Listen?

Many Arctic communities have oral histories that have helped Native and indigenous individuals to identify with their environment. In several of the stores in Do Glaciers Listen, by Julie Cruikshank, the author collected several stories from the 1970s and 1980s from Kitty Smith, Annie Ned, and Angela Sidney.
The stories Cruikshank highlighted depict explicit ’feelings’ indigenous and Native communities have toward their environment in the Yukon territory of the Arctic.
For example, with a story that Kitty Smith told, a man found himself (on a vision quest), in uncharted territory in the Arctic. What I found interesting is how the man in the story relied on his environment to define the internal social sanctions of his community. He identified with his place through a vision quest- a powerful cultural personification of his environment.
In another story told by Angela Sidney, the gentrification of the Dakl’aweidi clan was related to the glaciers that are in many of the oral histories in Arctic communities. Sidney personified the importance of glaciers and the environment by connecting her cultural heritage to this migration story.
In several of the other stories Cruikshank highlights, the glaciers mentioned are depicted as having an incredible enigmatic power- able to produce intense heat and cold. This energy has been culturally rooted and incorporated in most oral histories of the Arctic communities in the Yukon territory. Cultural practices often center around this energy.
Glaciers are part of indigenous and Native individuals’ cultural traditions, and have been for centuries. With climate change, the Arctic and Sub-Arctic glaciers are melting at an accelerated pace. The O’Higgins Glacier in Antarctica has retreated nine miles in the past 100 years (Ranco 2013). An elder also recalled;

10 years ago, it was very hot, everything melted. For two straight weeks, it was +35°C…for the first time we were in shorts with no tops walking outside. During that period, most of the glaciers melted. And now they keep melting. There are only a few glaciers left. Those beautiful glaciers seemed they would never melt. But they’ve mostly disappeared. We used to get ice from nearby glaciers for drinking water. All the glaciers by the shore are now gone. [Qapirangajuq: Inuit Knowledge and Climate Change 2010]

The cultural implications of glaciers melting could be detrimental. The loss of subsistence fishing could occur (a staple cultural practice of the communities in the Arctic regions), the displacement of indigenous and Native individuals’ communities and homes is inevitable (especially with the melting of permafrost under these communities- a foundation the community rests on), and many oral histories and cultural traditions could disappear forever (creating a massive loss of diversity). The environmental and cultural implications of the glaciers in the Arctic melting personify indigenous and Native communities’ plight today. Environmentally, the loss of wildlife and biodiversity could wipe hundreds of species (unable to adapt to accelerated climate change impacts), off the face of the earth for good. The loss of such wildlife effects the communities that rely on them for hunting and subsistence; which in turn, affects the cultural traditions of these societies.

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This entry was posted on March 22, 2014 by in Uncategorized.
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