Adaptation to Climate Change in Paulatuk - The Role of Multiple Stressors

In 2016, researchers with ArcticNet undertook interviews with community members of Inuvialuit in Paulatuk to identify what climatic (e.g. changing sea ice dynamics) and non-climatic stressors (e.g. high-cost of living) were affecting them, and to develop a set of recommended adaptation strategies. Paulatuk, or Paulatuuq, (meaning “place where one finds soot of coal”) is the nearest community to Tuktut Nogait National Park and the Horton River. It has a population of around 300 people and is known as the Southwind Capital of the Arctic. Inuvialuit in Paulatuk have a long history of coping with, and adapting to, changing conditions in the Arctic. More recently, changes associated with climate change including rising temperatures, altered sea ice dynamics, and less predictable weather patterns have wide-ranging, complex, and adverse consequences for Inuvialuit livelihoods. Inuvialuit are particularly sensitive to climate change due to their close relationship with the environment for their livelihoods. Climate change is being experienced together with other stressors, both climate and non-climate related, which influence adaptation. This case study focuses on the role of multiple stressors in adaptation to climate change in Paulatuk and provides a list of policy recommendations.

Understanding and Assessing Impacts

Inuvialuit in Paulatuk have a long history of coping with, and adapting to, changing conditions in the Arctic. More recently, changes associated with climate change including rising temperatures, altered sea ice dynamics, and less predictable weather patterns have wide-ranging, complex, and adverse consequences for Inuvialuit livelihoods. Researchers conducted semi-structured interviews with 28 Inuvialuit living in Paulatuk over 9 weeks from January to March 2016 to identify what stressors were affecting them, how they were dealing with them, and what made it easier for them. The research was conducted by Eric Lede with the community of Paulatuk under supervision by Dr. Tristan Pearce and Dr. Chris Furgal. The results of the interviews showed a range of socio-economic stressors in the following areas: economy (e.g. high cost of living); institutional education (e.g. low attendance rate); housing (e.g. overcrowding); technology (e.g. increased access to gambling); and addictions (alcohol and drug abuse). There were also findings under biophysical stressors related to changes in wildlife (e.g. changes in migration routes); atmosphere (e.g. more rain); water (e.g. larger waves); land (e.g. melting permafrost); and ice (e.g. decreased ice thickness). The interviews also indicated a series of other findings, including: food sharing networks are threatened; responses to climate impacts are mostly behavioural; there are changes in the transmission of traditional ecological knowledge; organized recreation improves youth well-being; out-migration from Paulatuk is causing a brain-drain; and school both aids and constrains adaptation.

Identifying Actions

Results of the 28 semi-structured interviews with Inuvialuit living in Paulatuk helped researchers to develop a list of recommended policy responses that would support the community in its adaptation and Capacity Building & Education efforts:

  1. Community Freezer: the community freezer plays a central role in supporting food sharing, however, it needs a sustainable source of funding. Maintenance costs should be integrated into future funding for the freezer and it should be upgraded or replaced with higher efficiency refrigeration technology.
  2. Traditional Ecological Knowledge (TEK): An equipment sharing initiative could be established to increase access to land. TEK holders could reduce or remove fees for sharing TEK with others in the community.
  3. School: Angik School should continue to identify opportunities to improve school attendance and achievement. Inuvialuit in Paulatuk emphasized the need to reform the school system to make it more appropriate for Inuvialuit students as current school is based on southern Canada curriculum with little relevance to some students.
  4. Organized recreation: Initiatives should continue to provide ongoing opportunities for youth to participate in organized recreation throughout the year. New sporting equipment is needed to support youth attendance, and the recreation coordinator could be encouraged to introduce new sporting disciplines into Paulatuk to support long-term youth engagement.

Implementation

A list of adaptive strategies currently implemented by community members were identified through semi-structured interviews with 28 Inuvialuit in 7 types of stressors. These include, for example:

  • Hunt on weekends (mixed economy);
  • Utilize weather reports (environmental conditions);
  • Change travel routes (institutional education); and
  • Buy fur from outside the community (changes in wildlife).