Indigenous cultures often have complex and intimate relationships with the ocean. Whilst this is most commonly thought of in relation to communities on small ocean islands, such as those in the Pacific, it is also an integral part of Inuit culture and identity across the Arctic circle.
Images of melting sea ice are quickly becoming a regular occurrence within mainstream media. However, for indigenous communities across the Arctic circle melting sea ice is an everyday reality; having developed specific language and technology sea ice remains an important part of their survival. Inuit communities have established intimate associations with their environment in a way that other cultures are unable to understand.
Melting sea ice is eroding more than the landscape, elements of indigenous culture are also fading away. In the Yupik community of Western Alaska traditional language used for centuries to describe the ocean is becoming obsolete.
Inuit communities are inherently maritime, their culture and identity is based on free movement on the land and sea. As a result, indigenous communities have vast experiences with the Arctic marine environment, often their extensive generational knowledge of sea ice can provide valuable contributions to scientific research. However, questions have been asked about whether enough is being done to include indigenous communities in decisions regarding the future of the Arctic.
Arctic indigenous peoples are increasingly being recognised as political representatives acting to mitigate the impacts of global climate change. However, despite progress in making Indigenous communities visible there are still concerns that they have to fight to be included. This links to a wider debate about whether indigenous people across the world have enough input into global affairs.
The Arctic ocean is involved in a range of political debates, the issue of governance being a prominent political dilemma. Climate change has exacerbated this issue, with suggestions being made that as parts of the Arctic ocean become free of sea ice, sovereignty is going to become even more hotly contested, with interests growing as resources and ocean space become more accessible. Contrasting indigenous preservation efforts, raising further debates as to whether more interest is being payed to who can claim sovereignty rather than the bigger climate issues. Arguably, failure to understand Inuit connections to the sea is a barrier in helping find appropriate preservation solutions both to the sea ice and Inuit traditions; it appears that the cultural gap is too large.
Global warming and melting sea ice are two of the biggest ongoing political issues, with countries across the world involved in finding appropriate ways of tackling them. However, it can be perceived that other issues such as Arctic governance and territoriality are overshadowing indigenous issues, arguably the rapid nature of environment decline is creating a sense of urgency amongst states to claim parts of the Arctic. The complexities of the relationship between indigenous communities and sea ice, combined with consequences of melting sea ice and turbulent political environment demonstrates how the Arctic sea encompasses a range of geopolitical issues.