In the distance two Inuit hunters called out a warning for us to return to shore. They could hear the ice cracking. I was not even aware that we had been walking offshore. In the heart of winter on Baffin Island (now called Nunavut), the snow-covered land, jagged with inland rock and ice, looked no different to me from the frozen sea. Inuit photographer Jimmy Manning guided me back to shore, where we hopped on his snowmobile and headed back to his home community, Cape Dorset.
On that day 25 years ago, Jimmy was ‘hunting’ with his camera, following in the tradition of his grandfather. Peter Pitseolak had been a historian and writer, and one of Canada’s first Aboriginal photographers to document the life of his people, the Inuit. Jimmy worked, until recent years, for more than three decades as manager of what today is called Kinngait Studios, originally known as West Baffin Eskimo Cooperative.
A 2010 Canadian documentary film Kinngait: Riding Light into the World maps the successive generations of Cape Dorset-based Inuit artists who illustrate their ever-changing way of life. One of the most significant roles of these artists is the role that is timeless and universal – to bear witness to authentic reality and the inevitable tides of change and how they impact upon life. But, regrettably, Inuit prints and carvings today are becoming ever more visibly altered by art market influences from southern and international buyers. They too often prefer more ‘pastoral’ images to artistic insights on how modern technologies are altering Inuit day-to-day lifestyle and perspectives. This unhappy scenario is examined in Etched in Stone, a 2010 CBC radio documentary.
But, while commerce trumps authenticity in the ‘art world,’ the human heart’s perennial quest for truth telling, – as well as creative storytelling that depicts the larger and deeper truths – ultimately, trump the goals of commerce. For the latter’s dark side seeks to reduce everyone and everything alive on this planet to consumers, commodities and marketplaces. The perennial quest, therefore, and the capacity of caring collaboration across cultures, infuses humanity’s hope.
Despite its bone-chilling title Cold, Clear and Deadly, such a media project is in progress, outlined at http://eria.info/coldcleardeadly/clearcolddeadly.pdf. Presented here is an insightful 15-page description, with images, about the life-threatening issue of ‘persistent organic pollutants’ (POPs), scientifically analyzed from Lake Superior north to Arctic waters, in a 2007 book by the same name. Such airborne industrial pollutants arrive from around the world, attracted to cold waters and climes, where they settle in water, micro-organisms, plants, shellfish, fish and mammals. PCBs, in fact, first were reported as far back as the 1980s, discovered in the breast milk of Inuit women. Today, PCBs and other toxins are becoming even more virulent and cancerous. The Inuit of the Canadian north, and also Greenland, are the most vulnerable in regard to increasing ocean contamination from the highest concentrations of POPs.
For ‘humanity’s hope’ is integrally connected with one essential fact. We need to take responsibility to better inform ourselves about the grim reality that faces the human family. By doing so, we then know why and how we need to respond, for example, taking measures to ban the production of these global pollutants. The future is not hopeless but rather hopeful, in accordance with the degree of caring and collaboration that we exercise in the pursuit of ecological literacy.
In my latest investigations, I also stumbled upon website http://www.restco.ca. It illustrates human collaboration wonderfully in the wealth of resources compiled by a small group of scientists and engineers – passionate about sustainable energy systems – coming together to work with “remote (off-grid) communities, notably in the Canadian Arctic and Boreal regions, to reduce the vulnerability of their energy systems.” Their company is called Remote Energy Security Technologies Collaborative (RESTCo). Fortified with well-researched facts, they communicate a rigorous critique of Arctic offshore drilling and challenge the findings published by the oil industry.
The Inuit, meanwhile, continue to rely on the health and presence of the caribou. For their ‘traditional environmental knowledge’ (TEK) experientially informs them that the caribou help to maintain the natural balance in ecosystems, and provide a significant nutritious food source, generate income from various economic activities and, last but not least, symbolically represent and sustain cultural pride and spiritual values.
Such symbolism exists globally among Indigenous peoples whose lives are interwoven with migrating herds of caribou and reindeer in the northern hemisphere. Jungian analyst and author Linda Schierse Leonard visited diverse Indigenous peoples, including the Sami of Lapland and the Even people of Siberia. She eloquently describes their reverence for the sacredness of life, and the central role of the reindeer.
In her book Creation’s Heartbeat, Following the Reindeer Spirit (1996), she also identifies a significant factor beyond ecological literacy that profoundly impacts on humanity’s hope. She suggests something that I have characterized for many years as the fractured consciousness and collective soul woundedness of Euro-western culture.
Leonard suggests: “Western humans tend to be locked into a manner of calculative thinking that reduces relationships to ‘I-It’ – an objectified alliance constructed out of a need for power and control… [W]e lose our spirituality, our sense of there being something greater than ourselves, greater than a desire for power.” She cites philosopher-theologian Martin Buber who identified the ‘I-Thou’ relationship – a soul-to-soul connection with other people, animals, Nature, and all beings”[p. 35].
In other words, Western culture needs to restore the innate human capacity to revitalize soulful awareness, and integrate holistic thinking and practices across all sectors of society. Through awakening our emotional and spiritual consciousness, and understanding our energetic interconnections with all planetary life, the foundation of humanity’s hope becomes established.