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Shelley Wright

On June 11, Shelley Wright received the $2,000 George Ryga Award for Social Awareness at Vancouver Public Library.

Her ground-breaking Our Ice Is Vanishing / Sikuvut Nunguliqtuq: A History of Inuit, Newcomers and Climate Change (McGill-Queens $39.950 reveals how the Nunavummiut 9the people of Nunavit0 have become the witnesses for climate change.

Wright lived and travelled in the Arctic for more than ten years as the Northern Director of the Akitsiraq Law School based in Iqaluit.

Now a professor of Aboriginal Studies at Langara College, she has combined scientific and legal information, along with political and individual perspectives, to elucidate how serious are the effects of climate change in the Arctic.

“The rapidity of the melting of summer ice in the Arctic over the past five years is unprecedented,” she writes, “both since satellite records began to be kept in 1979 and in the much longer oral history of Indigenous peoples.

“An ice-free summer in the Arctic Ocean was not predicted to occur until the middle or end of this century. Now, according to some predictions, it may occur by the end of this decade.”

Wright firmly places much blame on human behaviour.

“Rapid economic development in Asia and sustained industrial activity in the ‘developed’ world underlie much of the human-made global warming that is currently changing our weather, atmosphere, and oceans.

“One thing is clear: as global temperatures rise, Arctic temperatures rise faster. We may well have pushed polar ecosystems into a ‘positive feedback loop’ that could be unstoppable.”

Simply put, with more heat from global warming, the more melting there will be. And the more melting, the more heat because the white ice acts as a reflector of the sun’s rays.

With less ice, more of the sun’s warmth affects the Earth.  Wright quotes Inuit elders such as Cornelius Nutaraq to explain the impact of global warming.

“When I was a child, there would be much more snow … to build igluit [houses],” he says. “There was enough snow for a slope to form from the top of the hills on downwards. There would be snow all the way up. You could go all the way to the top by dogteam. You could also go upwards from the point. You could build igluit anywhere it sloped downwards. There is not that much snow anymore.”

It is not just the Vanishing Ice that is creating havoc in the Arctic.

“Inuit sometimes ask what European Canadians are doing on their land in the first place,” Wright writes. “By what right does any non-Inuit nation claim sovereignty over the land or sea of the Arctic?”

She goes on to cite First Nations author Lucassie Nutaraaluk talking about qallunaat—the Inuit word for Southern Canadians meaning ‘big eyebrows.’

“After England defeated Germany in the First World War, the qallunaat came up here and claimed our territory. Our ancestors were never compensated, never paid even though the qallunaat came up here and took over our land.

“I know our ancestors were very skilled people. They had very few tools but they survived. They were very strong and very capable. Thanks to their ability to survive we are here today. I know if we tried today to do what our ancestors did, we would die because we don’t have the same skills.”

As well as receiving the Ryga Award, Shelley Wright can now also boast the most northerly book launch in Canadian history.

Our Ice is Vanishing was launched at a latitude of 74.2167 degrees north in Lancaster Sound, aboard the Akademik Sergei Vavilov, one of the ships that was involved in the successful search to find the ship for the doomed Franklin expedition.

Wright was aboard the Akademik Sergei Vavilov in September of 2014, about one week after the much-publicized discovery of the sunken Franklin ship, the finding of which was a pet project of Prime Minister Stephen Harper.

• Unmanned: Drone Warfare and Global Security (Pluto Press/Between the Lines $31.95) by Ann Rogers and John Hill.
• Meltdown in Tibet: China’s Reckless Destruction of Ecosystems from the Highlands of Tibet to the Deltas of Asia (Raincoast $31.50) by Michael Buckley.

Unmanned: 978-1-77113-153-7
Meltdown: 978-1-137-27954-5