Patricia Cochran on snow and ice

Indigenous Perspectives on Snow and Ice

by Patricia Cochran

“All things are connected”

In indigenous cultures, it is understood that ecosystems are chaotic, complex, organic, in a constant state of flux, and filled with diversity. No one part of an ecosystem is considered more important than another part and all parts have synergistic roles to play. Indigenous communities say that “all things are connected” – the land to the air and water, the earth to the sky, the plants to the animals, the people to the spirit.

Indigenous ways of knowing have evolved over thousands of years and can generally be characterized as being non-linear, qualitative, holistic, organic in character, and based on a spiritual worldview. Wisdom, knowledge and information are passed down through the generations in oral traditions, and they are modified by personal experiences and collective observations. Traditional ways of knowing are not used to manage the natural environment, but to help indigenous communities adapt to the existing and emerging environmental realities, whatever they may be.

Western based science systems, for the most part, are not equipped to validate traditional knowledge observations and conclusions about the natural world, thus unwittingly marginalizing indigenous peoples, world views, ways of knowing, and an invaluable source of information and guidance.

Observations of Change

The Arctic may be seen as geographically isolated from the rest of the world, yet the Inuit hunter who falls through the thinning sea ice is connected to melting glaciers in the Andes and the Himalayas, and to the flooding of low-lying and small island states. What happens in foreign capitals and in temperate and tropical countries affects us dramatically here in the North. Many of the economic and environmental challenges facing Inuit result from activities well to the south our homelands, and what is happening in the far North will affect what is happening in the South.

If the Greenland ice sheet melts (as it seems to be doing now), not only do world water levels rise, but scientists speculate that dumping such massive quantities of cold water into the Atlantic may very well affect what is popularly known as the Conveyer Belt. This circularly moving body of cold and warm waters regulate climate in much of the Northern Hemisphere.

We are all connected on this planet, and the Arctic plays an important role.