Climate change has a disproportionate impact on the Canadian Arctic with temperatures rising twice as fast compared to elsewhere in the world. This impact has caused warming of the oceans, a rapid decline in sea-ice extent and duration, and widespread permafrost thaw. As academics and health practitioners have noted, these ecological changes directly impact the mental health and wellbeing of Inuit communities (Willox et al., 2020; IRC, 2016).
In this context, our project particularly focuses on Inuit youth (18-24 yrs). As President of The National Inuit Youth Council, Brian Pottle, emphasized at COP26, urgent attention is needed to understand ‘increasing mental health risks’ facing youth due to climate change (Kaschor 2021). Our project addresses this pressing issue through an innovative and community-driven approach that views Inuit youth not simply as ‘at-risk’ but pivotal agents of change (Watt-Cloutier, 2018). Through the use of Inuit-storytelling methodologies our project elevates youth and local voices to identify impacts as well as solutions to address a dramatically changing climate in Northern Canada. Moreover, our project has designed critical new spaces, and established the necessary collaborations, for youth to disseminate this knowledge to policy-makers, academics and wider publics. Our project takes a staged approach which empowers Inuit youth across diverse regions. In the first stage we focus on Tuktoyaktuk, piloting our approach alongside youth leaders and with support of Tuktoyaktuk Community Corporation (TCC). In the second stage our team will engage youth in the three other regions of Inuit Nunangat where our team has existing links: Kuujuaq, Makkovik and Kangilliniq. Addressing Theme 1 of this call, Arctic Ecosystems and their Impact on Inuit Communities, our project asks the two-fold question: how does climate change impact Inuit youth and what are the resilience factors that enhance mental health and wellbeing? Our project is especially interested in innovative forms of adaptation key to continued livelihood and cultural continuity. National Inuit Strategy on Research (NISR) has noted that this question of health is a vital Inuit research priority (ITK, 2018:5). Specifically, our project explores how changes to terrestrial, freshwater and coastal ecosystems (sea-ice and coastal processes, freshwater, snow, permafrost thaw, and changing marine ecosystems) impact mental health and wellbeing. Our interdisciplinary team with expertise across the physical and social sciences takes a community-engaged approach to this research (Bagelman, 2016; Hall, 2005; Igloliorte, 2009; Wiebe et al., 2020). Additionally, we have developed an Inuit-led structure and methodological pathway for community members to themselves determine how these systems are experienced. This approach is a corrective to a problem identified by NISR: that there exists ‘science research bias’ and a lack of social science perspectives addressing Inuit priorities (Inuit Tapiriit Kanatami, 2018: 4). Our project is critical given that Inuit youth remain chronically underrepresented in shaping climate policy (Watt-Cloutier, 2015). Addressing this problem and the cross-cutting themes of this call, our project co-develops Inuit-specific storytelling methodologies for documenting indicators and determinants of Inuit community health and resilience. We work with an Inuit understanding of ‘storytelling’ and sharing (Inuktitut: Unikkausivut) which refers to verbal but also artistic expressions (Bertrand, 2019). Working alongside Inuit artists (Milestones) we explore how long-standing practices of storytelling, or testimony, can be used as a material and intergenerational method to visually convey climate testimony and shape policy that enhances resilience strategies. As Co-Investigator Silla Watt- Cloutier has argued, these tools depart from conventional methods which do not adequately address cultural and embodied experiences (Watt-Cloutier, 2018)