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Hunting under changing conditions in Ulukhaktok: Climate change impacts on Inuit subsistence activities over

an 11-year period

By David Fawcett, Dr. Tristan Pearce and Dr. James Ford

Photo: Adam Kolouhok Kudlak retrieves a ringed seal near Ulukhaktok (photo credit: Tristan Pearce).

This research examines how Inuit in Ulukhaktok, located in the Inuvialuit Settlement Region in the western Canadian Arctic, adapt to changing climatic conditions over time. We conducted 32 interviews with Inuit in Ulukhaktok in 2016 and compared findings with data collected in the community in 2005. We also used longitudinal sea ice, harvest, and economic datasets to help understand change over time. We take a specific focus on subsistence activities – hunting, fishing, trapping, and gathering – consistent with the 2005 study.

“The weather’s really easy to change. Unpredictable. Even right now the weather changes just like that. Just last week we were just down at our cabin and the wind just shifted, just like that, from the west to the east.” –Elder David Kuptana

Photo: Adam Kolouhok Kudlak near Ulukhaktok (photo credit: Tristan Pearce).

Key findings

Compromised trails and increased risks

Changing conditions such as increasingly strong and more consistent winds, earlier and more rapid spring melts, later freeze-up and earlier break-up of sea ice, and less stable sea ice conditions are making travel to some hunting areas more difficult, dangerous, expensive, and sometimes impossible. For example, winds, which have always affected travel on the land, have become stronger and more consistent in recent years, creating challenges for summer boat travel. Some hunters have been unable to travel due to the poor conditions, and others have become stranded on the land.

Photo: Roland Notaina (photo credit: Tristan Pearce).

Key findings

Tension between the subsistence and wage economies


The time and financial requirements of hunting, the need for hunters to have some source of income, and limited subsistence-compatible sources of income are increasing the tension between the subsistence and wage economies. As a result, increased time and labour are required to produce the income necessary to hunt, which can restrict the ability to remain flexible in response to changing conditions. This constrains adaptability in a number of ways and is key to how many community members experience and respond to climate change.

Policy responses

Supporting access to country food

Adaptation interventions need to address the tension between the subsistence and wage economies by supporting access to country food and the upkeep of sharing networks. Initiatives such as community hunts increase social capital throughout the community and increase access to country food, especially for elders, single mothers, and others who cannot access the land consistently. However, broader conservation goals and economic sustainability need to also be considered.

The insights, support and generous hospitality provided by the residents of Ulukhaktok, and the Ulukhaktok Hunters and Trappers Committee and Ulukhaktok Community Corporation are gratefully acknowledged, particularly the contributions of Roland Notaina, Patrick Kitok Akhiatak, Adam Kudlak, Robert and Agnes Kuptana, Jack Akhiatak, and Patrick Joss. Thank you to Dr. Peter Collings (University of Florida) for his guidance and feedback during data collection and writing.

This research is a part of ArcticNet Project 1.1: Community Vulnerability, Adaptation and Resilience to Climate Change in the Arctic. It was conducted under Aurora Research Institute Scientific Research License #15913 and Human Research Ethics Approval, University of Guelph #16MR034.

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