CLIMATE CHANGE THROUGH STORYTELLING BY Stephen Greenlaw
We all have personal experiences with climate change. Yet it can feel overwhelming sometimes to see the implications in the media. One way to break down the political barriers surrounding climate change is through storytelling. Storytelling can bring about a shared experience and help others better understand how it impacts them personally or collectively.
In the interview transcribed below, Doreen Nutaaq Simmonds from Utqiaġvik shares stories about climate change and how it impacted her and others around her.
Let me tell some stories I’ll tell you about up north. [About a] young man, it was just a few years ago. It was wintertime up north, between Utqiaġvik and Wainwright. And his snow machine went through the river ice because of climate change. All our lives it was frozen solid, always frozen solid, then all of a sudden, here comes this climate change. And he goes right through the ice. And he’s miles from anywhere. And he ended up [stranded out there], was about a week, maybe six days. It was in the newspaper. He built himself a little shelter. And in that shelter, he had to have a stick with him. You know, he lost his stuff. All the stuff was connected to the snow machine. And he had to ward off wolverines with that stick. They were trying to get inside to get him. And he lasted almost a week. Search and Rescue had been looking for him. And they finally found him. He lasted that long. And because of climate change, he could have lost his life.
The whales For thousands of years, our people have been whaling every spring and every fall. The spring is when there’s still lots of ice. The whole ocean covered. I’m 72 years old. Every year the ocean is locked up until sometime in July. It is end of June first part of July, the ocean finally opens up and people can ride their skin boats. But now with climate change, the polar ice is no more. There’s no more old ice, there is just young ice. And that young ice is not thick enough to hold the whales that are caught [and pulled up on the ice for butchering].
I know how many tons a whale is. I think a ton a foot. But there’s been several times that a whale that was caught and pulled up onto the ice by everyone who is down there to help, and the whale is too heavy for that ice and breaks through. And that makes it very dangerous for the people who are helping butcher this whale that’s been caught. And that’s starting to happen too many times. This is whaling season now. But that’s what’s been happening.
The whale that they catch, I think what they have to do is look for whales that are smaller so that they can haul them up. And that’s changing. That’s not the old way. I remember when I was in boarding school, I was 15 or 16, I just came home to Barrow.
From the plane, my sister and I were both in boarding school, we could see that they were butchering a whale down there. Soon as we got home, we changed into warm gear, took off our city clothes and put our parkas and mukluks on and walked down to where they had caught a whale. And the whale they had caught was over 70 feet, they had not yet put it upon the ice. And of course, this is old ice. This is centuries old ice. [The whale] was 70 feet when they were measuring it. But some of it was still underwater, they haul it up by the tail, the head was still under water, so it had to be over 70 feet. And one that huge they could pull it up on the ice.
You know, like imagine this is 10 feet of ice, you don’t see that anymore. You don’t see 10-foot-thick ice. It’s gotten thinner. It’s much thinner and more dangerous. And same with like I said about that young man who went through the ice, the rivers [are] getting more and more dangerous to go inland, go along the rivers, people go through the ice on their snow machines.
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