Temperature: 5 °F/ -15 °C
Wind: 50 MPH/ 80 KPH
Cloud Cover: Low clouds with blowing snow
Sunrise: 6:48 a.m.
Sunset: 7:56 p.m.
The gym at the Qikiqtarjuaq Hamlet Center was bustling with people when we arrived at 7 p.m. Little kids scuttled across the floor chasing one another around the room. Adults clustered in conversation around the tea and bannock stations set up at either end. In the center of the gym floor was an incredible spread of caribou, shrimp and arctic char brought in by local hunters and fisherman. 200 people came out from the community to hear stories from our expedition thus far and learn more about our mission and goals. Will and Theo spoke to the audience about the impact of global warming on the arctic environment and native cultures and showed several slides illustrating the melting of the Greenland Ice Cap and disintegration of the Larson Ice Shelf in Antarctica. It was the video clips of travel from Iqaluit to Pang, and Auyuittuq National Park, however, that seemed to elicit the strongest response from the crowd. Many adults, who used to frequent the park via snowmobile, were interested to hear more about our travels as poor snow conditions in the past five years have kept people away from this traditional travel route to Pangnirtung.
Earlier in the day we met with board members from the Nattivak Hunter’s and Trapper’s Association (HTA). Harry Alookie, HTA manager, was kind enough to set up the meeting and translate for us. We gathered around a table in the small office, surrounded by a colorful collection of maps and posters on the walls. Acting Chairman Levi Nutaralik, an elder in the community, welcomed us to Qik and invited us to ask any questions we might have to the Association. We discussed climate change for the next half hour, noting observations from various hunters of changes in the environment in the past 5-10 years. Hunter Jonah Audlakiak shared his observations of the local harp seal, which in recent years has been repeatedly found with large furless patches. One explanation of this phenomenon is that seals unable to find rest on melting ice in early spring head to the rocky coastline instead. In an effort to move their bodies across the shore, they end up scraping the fur off of their bellies and sides.
Jonah also shared observations of a suffering polar bear population. In the past five years he reported an increasing of bear encounters near town. Hungry and on the hunt for food, these bears create a nuisance and can often be quite dangerous. As a result, many of these bears end up being shot in self-defense. Jonah has also observed an increasing number of underweight polar bears and reported two recent instances of dead bears that were very skinny when they died.
Other members of the HTA shared stories of unusual bird migrations. Canadian geese, for example, have made a dramatic increase in the past five years. The hunters have noticed their impact on other native bird populations, forcing them out of traditional nesting areas. They also reported increased sightings of marine animals such as dolphins and sea lions, common down south but unusual this far north. They also reported seeing eider ducks overwintering further north than usual.
At the end of the meeting we gathered around the map to gather valuable local knowledge of the route to Clyde River. The group cautioned us against polar bears and slushy ice, and recommended travel on the land side of the ice floe edge. They pointed out several HTA cabins along the way, and suggested several short cuts to make our travel easier. Levi Nutaralik ended the meeting by presenting each of us with a knife engraved on the side with “Qikiqtarjuaq HTA”.
The people of Qik continue to be gracious and welcoming, willing to share their observations from the land, and eager to make us feel at home in their remote village. Full of fresh meat and fish, local stories, tea, and bannock, we certainly feel thankful for their hospitality and kindness.
Qujannanmiik (thank you) Qikiqtarjuaq!