Climate Change Communication and Indigenous Publics
Summary and Keywords
Indigenous experiences with climate change have become increasingly visible through media stories of rising sea levels, heavy storms, and coastal erosion due to climate change in places as different as Tuvula in the South Pacific and Shishmaref in the Alaskan Arctic. Despite these bursts of attention, indigenous concerns and experiences have not been well or diversely represented in media coverage, nor have they been consistently studied in media scholarship—nor until recently, have indigenous people or knowledge been mentioned in major climate agreements and scientific assessments. There is, however, a growing body of interdisciplinary scholarship that draws on indigenous knowledge, experiences, and activism related to climate change.
Indigenous peoples comprise 5% of the world’s population and live in over 90 countries around the world. Because indigenous communities are often located outside major urban centers, indigenous peoples are likely to suffer disproportionately from the impacts of climate change. Many indigenous people live in close connection with the ecosystems in their region, and collectively held Traditional Ecological Knowledge (TEK) is passed down through multiple generations, providing in-depth, systematic, meaningful, and historically informed views of climate change and potential pathways for resilience and adaptation.
Indigenous people have often been portrayed in media coverage as victims with little attention paid to TEK, communal resilience, human rights and climate justice frameworks, or the historical contexts that may amplify climate change impacts. While indigenous people have diverse circumstances and histories, many are likely to have suffered enormous upheaval in recent centuries due to colonialism, resource development, economic shifts, loss of human rights, and lack of self-determination. Climate change often intensifies existing vulnerabilities and risks. These deeply intertwined social and environmental crises create distinct challenges for considering how and what climate change means for diverse indigenous peoples, how to address it at all levels of governance, and how media can and should be accountable to and represent indigenous publics.
Indigenous Peoples and Climate Change
Indigenous experiences with climate change have become increasingly visible in media, climate research, activism, and policy negotiations. Many indigenous people live outside major urban centers, and are deeply and disproportionately impacted by a broad range of climate-related changes from shifting conditions for marine and land-based subsistence food gathering to sea level rise and coastal erosion. Global and national English-speaking media have paid limited bursts of attention to indigenous experiences at particular junctures when novelty or conflict narratives are deemed timely. Examples include the potential of climate refugees due to sea level rise in the South Pacific or catastrophic damage to Arctic villages due to climate disruption (Cameron, 2011; Farbotko & Lazurus, 2012; Marino, 2015; Maldonado et al., 2013; Mortreux & Barnett, 2009; Watt-Cloutier, 2015). Indigenous people are seldom the narrators or producers of these stories, nor are they often the primary audience. Global or national media are also not likely to follow up with sustained, in-depth, or diverse coverage of indigenous experiences with or responses to climate change (Callison, 2014; Dreher & Voyer, 2015; Farbotko, 2005; Roosvall & Tegelberg, 2013; Stoddart & Smith, 2016).
Scholarship on indigenous people and climate change rarely focus on media or communication, and conversely, research that focuses on media and communication about climate change have not often paid attention to framing, narratives, or content related to indigenous people. This gap is all the more apparent given the growing body of interdisciplinary scholarship that draws on indigenous knowledge, experiences, and activism related to climate change (Whyte, 2017a). Systematic observations of environmental change by indigenous peoples provide in-depth and historically informed views of both the rate and character of ecological changes currently underway as well as the potential meaning of such changes, cultural and social impacts, and avenues for just and appropriate measures for adaptation and resilience (Bodenhorn & Ulturgasheva, 2017; Cochran et al., 2013; Wildcat, 2013; Whyte, 2013a). Traditional Ecological Knowledge (TEK) is often passed down through multiple generations of indigenous communities as oral histories and as experiential knowledge that have facilitated communal indigenous interactions with continuously evolving ecosystems (Kimmerer, 2002; McGregor, 2004; Whyte, 2013b). In the wake of the Arctic Climate Impact Assessment (2004), more scientists have begun to consider TEK alongside scientific findings. However, the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) and the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) have been slow to integrate TEK and indigenous participation (Ford, Cameron, et al., 2016; Smith & Sharp, 2012).
Indigenous people are not a monolithic category, and have both diverse and common experiences and situations. Many indigenous people are likely to have suffered enormous upheaval in recent centuries due to colonialism, resource development, economic shifts, displacement, assimilation, discrimination, loss of human rights, and lack of self-determination (Nakashima et al., 2012; Norton-Smith et al., 2016). In many regions, climate change is the latest entry in long and difficult encounters with colonialism and capitalism that have involved relocation and the transformation of environmental, communal, and economic relations (Bodenhorn & Ulturgasheva, 2017; Callison, 2014; Cochran et al., 2013; Marino, 2015; Whyte, 2017a). These deeply intertwined social and environmental crises create distinct challenges for considering how and what climate change means for diverse indigenous peoples; how to address it at all levels of governance, research, and planning; and how media can and should represent experience, knowledge, policy, and political engagement for wide public audiences.
This article will first look at evolving definitions of indigenous peoples, and then discuss how indigenous publics are constituted through scholarship that addresses TEK and indigenous experiences of living with climate change. These discourses are key to understanding the stakes of representations of indigenous people in media, and the article will address persistent issues that have emerged through analyses of media coverage, climate assessments, and climate negotiations. The article will conclude with suggestions for improving and analyzing media coverage of indigenous publics.
Who Are Indigenous Peoples?
Indigenous people are located throughout the world, from the circumpolar Arctic to the South Pacific. The United Nations (UN) estimates that there are approximately 370 million indigenous people in 90 countries, comprising over 5% of the world’s population. In 2007, the UN Declaration of the Rights of Indigenous People (UNDRIP) was adopted and ratified by 144 countries. Despite having large indigenous populations, Australia, Canada, New Zealand, and the United States were the only countries to vote against UNDRIP. Canada has since softened its position, but stopped short of ratification. The UN was not the first international organization to address indigenous rights. The International Labor Organization (ILO) began discussing indigenous concerns in the 1920s, developing a working definition of indigenous peoples that has evolved considerably until the present (Errico, 2017).
The main concern with defining who is indigenous is that it be appropriately flexible, given the wide range of experiences among those who identify as indigenous. During the decade-long discussion at the UN Permanent Forum on Indigenous Issues where UNDRIP was drafted and discussed, self-identification became a primary consideration when defining who is indigenous. Many indigenous peoples have, as the late Erica Daes, former chairperson of the Working Group on Indigenous Populations put it, “suffered from definitions imposed on them by others.” As a result, the UN has not adopted a formal definition, but rather looks at a range of factors that include (1) people whose ancestors were first to occupy their land; (2) self-definition as indigenous; (3) collective physical and cultural survival based on ancestral claims and distinctive cultural practices related to land; and (4) experiences of subjugation, marginalization, and dispossession (Lightfoot, 2016; United Nations, 2013, p. 14). The term “indigenous people” can be pluralized—a point of contention for some nations due to the issues of sovereignty an “s” raises (Schrope, 2009); and for activists, a rallying cry around the diversity of experiences among indigenous peoples (Smith, 1999).
The challenge of such definitions is that they remain flexible and useful despite regional differences and experiences, and that they support efforts that move toward indigenous self-determination across and within states (Anaya, 2004; Lightfoot, 2016; Niezen, 2003). Not all indigenous people are minorities in their countries nor have all suffered due to marginalization or dispossession. Corntassel (2003) expands the range of factors defining indigenous people to include oral histories, indigenous languages (either spoken or once spoken), formal and informal social institutions that reflect distinct and evolving cultural traditions, and self-definition that involves close communal relationships as well as close ties to the land. Smith (1999) affirms that Indigenous is a vital term precisely because of its encompassing definition and potential to mobilize; Indigenous “internationalizes the experiences, the issues and the struggles of some of the world’s colonized peoples” (p. 7). The intertwined nature of colonialism, land issues, and human rights means that climate change often presents as an additional layer that amplifies and exacerbates existing issues rather than posing a completely new problem.
Understanding indigenous peoples’ self-definition is vital to understanding articulations of the impacts of climate change. Climate change brings into view distinct environmental and cultural knowledge; long histories of colonialism; the use and importance of oral histories as well as the activism and political work required at regional, national, and transnational levels of governance and policy. Yet, even as there are similarities, Cochran et al. (2013) point out that “Indigenous understandings of climate change are as diverse as the many environments and cultures in which they are situated,” and that there are “common features and differences compared to western science.” Given the diversities and similarities of experiences among indigenous peoples as well as differences in climate, geographies, and histories, how might indigenous people be understood as a set of publics in relation to climate change?
Indigenous Publics, Indigenous Knowledge
When media scholars talk about “the public,” they generally trace it back to John Dewey’s 1927 concept of a constructed public in relation to the state and its officials. Yet, even in his construction, Dewey acknowledged “the public” as imagined, as a functional myth, and as an impossible homogeneity that serves the needs of the state. The public can and often is replaced with a more palatable notion of “diverse publics” with an all-important “s” to helpfully signal what Ellis, Waterton, & Wynne (2010) refer to as “the sheer diversity, partiality, teeming conflict, flux, and potential incoherence of real, identifiable components” of a public (p. 9). Yet, Ellis et al. also note that there is a productive tension to be had between a much-needed abstraction or fiction of a homogeneous public and the particularities of social relations and realities. This is certainly applicable in thinking of Indigenous people as a kind of abstracted category and as a set of diverse peoples with distinct histories, beliefs, experiences, and knowledges. In other words, the long labor required and important intervention of defining indigenous people rests on indigenous peoples both having much in common and so much diversity at the same time.
A crucial factor that sets indigenous peoples apart from other kinds of publics in relation to climate change discourse is what indigenous people bring to the discussion. Wildcat, in his introduction to a special edition of Climatic Change on Indigenous people in the United States, articulates it this way:
Unlike most citizens who form opinions about climate change based on cable news networks, Internet sites, and even paper news publications, American Indian and Alaska Native awareness of climate change is the result of practical lifeway experiences and sensitivity to rhythms of seasons that make them particularly knowledgeable about what is going on where they live. (2013, p. 510)
It’s not that indigenous people are not aware of how climate change is defined in general sources of media and information. Rather, indigenous people come to a climate change discussion with their own knowledges, vernaculars, histories, and cultural frameworks for making sense of and interpreting what climate change means both in the observable present and the predicted future (Callison, 2014). What this article describes are some of the commonalities amongst diverse indigenous people that set their experiences with and knowledge of climate change apart from other kinds of publics. Engaging with climate change for indigenous publics rests on differently configured and articulated ways of relating to the natural world. It is embedded in the “social situation” many indigenous people face with regards to their land and human rights as well as ongoing and historical ecological changes associated with climate change (Errico, 2017, p. 10).
Indigenous communities are very likely to live in close and interdependent relationships with ecological cycles and systems, and as a result, will suffer disproportionately from the impacts and uneven disruptions related to climate change. The types and severity of these disruptions present challenges that range from migratory shifts in animals that are culturally significant and vital for communal subsistence (Moerlein & Carothers, 2012; Turner & Clifton, 2009) to the melting of permafrost that lie underneath roads and buildings (Cochran et al., 2013; Maldonado, Shearer, Bronen, Peterson, & Lazrus, 2013) and the encroachment of sea level and increasing frequency of storms and flooding such that relocation of whole communities may be necessary (Cameron, 2011; Farbotko & Lazrus, 2012; Marino, 2015). Less well known are interdependent issues like hydrologic changes, rainfall patterns, food insecurity, water access, habitat changes for both wild and domesticated animals, shortening of seasons, and farming issues (Lynn et al., 2013; Nakashima, McLean, Castillo, & Rubis, 2012; Norton-Smith et al., 2016; Voggesser, Daigle, & Ranco, 2013). Hazards such as floods, fires, pests, and new disease vectors are also part of the increased risks posed by climate disruption (Head, McGregor, & Toole, 2014). Health complications that result from all of these changes amplify existing vulnerabilities that stem from structural inequalities even in developed countries like Canada and the United States (Cochran et al., 2013; Ford, Berrang-Ford, King, & Furgal, 2010).
Impact, experience, and knowledge about climatic changes are held collectively in indigenous communities. Indigenous people in some regions may not live in their home communities yet they remain deeply connected, knowledgeable, and committed to their ancestral lands and communities (for example, see Mortreux & Barnett, 2009; Urban Aboriginal Peoples Study, 2011). Wildcat (2013) notes that indigenous peoples draw not just on individual lifeway experiences, “but that of entire nations and communities to share multi-generational ‘deep spatial’ knowledges of empirical landscapes and seascapes” (p. 510). Most indigenous communities also have acknowledged TEK experts who are considered most knowledgeable about environmental changes and their meanings.
TEK (also known as TK, Traditional Knowledge and IK, Indigenous Knowledge) is defined by Kimmerer (2002) as “rational and reliable knowledge that has been developed through generations of intimate contact by native peoples with their lands” (p. 431). McGregor (2004) adds to this arguing that for indigenous people, TEK is “action-oriented”: “One does TEK; it is not limited to a ‘body of knowledge.’ Non-Aboriginal views of TEK are more concerned with what the knowledge consists of and how it is transmitted. TEK is not just knowledge about the relationships with Creation, it is the relationship with Creation; it is the way that one relates” (p. 394). Knowledge then is not only collectively held and transmitted over long periods of time, but TEK emerges from practices, beliefs, and relations and as such, constitutes a differently configured system of knowledge as well as a lifeway or worldview that informs how and what matters (Whyte, 2017a).
TEK in Research and Scholarship
TEK produces different knowledge of and experiences with climate change (Sakakabira, 2010, 2017; Weatherhead et al., 2010), and it has only recently become an important element in research and scholarship for understanding climate change and other environmental issues (Huntington, 2000). Smith and Sharp (2012) point out that TEK as it is defined and mobilized in scholarly and scientific research is a “creation of Western science” where the focus is most often on quantifiable knowledge. Whyte (2013b) further suggests that controversies emerge when different assumptions and definitions come into conflict about either how TEK should be mobilized as knowledge, or what the relationship is between TEK and a scientific field. Whyte argues that conflicts over definitions of TEK and who is counted as an expert should instead be seen as opportunities for collaboration such that long-term processes can be created to “allow the different implications of approaches to knowledge in relation to stewardship goals to be responsibly thought through” (p. 1). Whyte (2017b) cautions about the value ascribed to TEK where scientists and others may value TEK for its “supplemental value” to their own research. Instead, Whyte suggests a framework of “knowledge exchange” where scientists also consider and acknowledge “the governance-value of Indigenous knowledges for Indigenous peoples,” and the impact and “governance value of the scientists own goals and research approaches.”
The differentiated ways of seeing the world that focus on relationships between the human and non-human worlds and moral or spiritual dimensions have been often overlooked or set aside in efforts to integrate TEK (Cruikshank, 1991, 2005; Littlebear, 2000; Wenzel, 2004). Cochran and colleagues (2013), drawing on Deloria and Wildcat (2001) articulate it this way: “many elements of indigenous worldviews are embedded in a holistic framework that connects the land to the air and water, the earth to the sky, the plants to the animals, the people to the spirit.” It’s in light of this that Cochran et al. differentiate TEK as both a matter of emphasis and a mode of apprehending the world: “Alaskan indigenous perspectives often emphasize relationships between people and other living and non-living entities (“how to”) whereas western science tends to emphasize facts (“what is”).” Merging these knowledge systems into “a single framework” may thus be impossible, but similar to Whyte’s suggestion, bringing them alongside and into conversation with one another creates new pathways and opportunities both for understanding climate change, its consequences, and collaboratively responding and adapting to it (for example: Gearheard, Porcenich, Stewart, Sanguya, & Huntington, 2010; Huntington, 2000; Huntington & Watson, 2012; Kimmerer, 2002; Krupnik & Jolly, 2002; Oozeva et al., 2004; Voggesser et al., 2013; Berkes, 2008).
Given the centrality of questions about the integration and utility of differentiated knowledge systems in understanding what constitutes indigenous publics, it’s relevant here to bring in questions about scientific authority and publics from Science and Technology Studies (STS) scholars. STS scholars have critiqued scientific projects for the ways in which scientific knowledge often remains “sovereign as a form of knowledge and normative commitment,” where science maintains existing power relations and authority as the predominant mode of apprehending the natural world (Ellis et al., 2010; Harding, 1998, 2011; Jasanoff, 2005, 2010; Jasanoff & Martello, 2004; Wynne, 2006, 2007). STS scholars have also pointed out conversely how publics have been imagined and almost “pre-constituted” by scientific projects and science communication endeavors without an attentiveness to wider commitments and diversities such that certain notions of race and gender are naturalized (Haraway, 1989; Reardon, 2005) as are processes for making policies and decisions that involve scientific information (Hayden, 2007; Irwin & Wynne, 2004; Jasanoff, 2010; Miller & Edwards, 2001). Ellis et al. pointedly conclude that “experiments in democratizing science have ironically served to reinstate the authority of science by subtle means involving erasure of the very publics being invited to participate” (p. 8). This critique is particularly poignant when considering the ways in which major scientific assessments and climate agreements have largely excluded TEK and indigenous participation until very recently—a point I will return to later on in this article.
TEK and “Alien” Contexts
Williams and Hardison (2013) argue that there is also a potential for misuse and exploitation of TEK precisely because of these disjunctures. They state that “once traditional knowledge is shared outside of a community, it enters alien social and legal contexts” (p. 534). Traditional knowledge is deeply connected to a way of seeing the world that privileges enduring relationships as well as lifeways and experiences and can be helpful in a range of scientific research areas including climate change, but there are a concurrent set of risks posed as well. Despite “documented benefits” of knowledge exchanges that involve TEK, Williams and Hardison remind us that indigenous people are “being invited to mobilize traditional knowledge, often deeply spiritual and core to their identity, to solve large-scale problems they cannot avoid and that are not of their making” (p. 42). Williams and Hardison suggest that UNDRIP guidelines for free, prior, and informed consent should be used to guide respectful knowledge exchanges where TEK is seen as sovereign, governed property with equal standing to other forms of knowledge.
The challenge then for indigenous publics is to attend to and articulate the ways in which knowledge systems, worldviews, lifeways, power relations, and the impacts of climate change collide and collude. TallBear (2013, 2016) in her research on indigenous people, DNA sequencing, and the Genographic Project situates this challenge broadly as a struggle over meanings that influence the structures of the state, law, and policy even as persistent colonial practices in newer scientific projects become apparent. Her charge to scholars and indigenous people is relevant to climate change in many respects.
The main critique is to make clear the colonial assumptions and practices that continue to inform science. Science and technology are central to nation-building and—as indigenous peoples well know and scholars increasingly assert—need to be made more democratic. Thus, the fight for indigenous peoples—and for communities more broadly who are regularly subject to the scientific gaze—is to debate which meanings and whose meanings inform law and policy. That is where we should be working. To make sure that science, and the state, are more democratic, that our stories are heard as clearly as those of anthropologists and geneticists when the state acts to influence our lives. Or rather, that our stories should be heard more loudly than theirs when we have more at stake. (TallBear, 2016, p. 423)
The stakes of and for climate change impacts are substantive, and palpable particularly when considering the loss of cultural ways of being in relation with other living beings and the massive changes in ecosystems that indigenous peoples have called home, often since time immemorial. These stakes are also present in more mundane adaptation and planning research and policies where baselines established determine community management and state responses. Indigenous publics thus face a range of sites for response, intervention, participation, collaboration, and representation in order to assert their own knowledges, expertise, experiences, and worldviews. Embedded in indigenous experience are the layered vulnerabilities and ramifications of both past and present state policies and decisions that complicate what climate change impacts means and how it can be justly addressed (Diemberger et al., 2012; Whyte, 2013a).
Indigenous Experiences With Climate Change and Media Representations
Journalism ultimately derives its authority from its surrogacy for the public—to speak and ask questions on behalf of the public, to hold governments and other societal institutions accountable, and to provide information that citizens need to make decisions. It’s the latter element that has particularly captivated those working in and researching climate change communication (Boykoff, 2011; Carvalho, 2007). But all of these elements are part of the new challenges Olausson and Berglez (2014) identify, and they are deeply implicated in thinking through media representations of indigenous people and climate change. TallBear’s charge resonates on this point, too, and can be extended to media analyses. Indeed, Callison (2014) suggests analyzing and evaluating the role that media play in meaning making in order to assess whose stories, experiences, and expertise inform and/or dominate climate narratives that are embedded with rationales for action and ethical engagement.
Part of the challenge even in drafting this article is to think through the slippage between terms like indigenous people and indigenous publics. When “people” become “publics,” they also, especially in the current Internet-fueled era, become audience member, user, participant, and other euphemisms that stand in for diverse social groups to whom journalists are accountable—even as journalistic routines, norms, and practices can also still preclude public participation and feedback; and even as newsrooms in countries like Canada, the United States, and Australia maintain a striking lack of racial diversity that do not reflect their populations. More complicated still is the notion that publics, as discussed previously, often end up homogenous, which in thinking about and representing diverse indigenous peoples can become highly problematic as this section will show.
Mobilizing indigenous experiences with and narratives about climate change through various media have provided important additions to generalized public awareness and engagement of climate change as an issue (Callison, 2014; Tennberg, 2016; Watt-Cloutier, 2015). News stories about climate change and indigenous people usually mean firsthand knowledge and direct experience with climate change. As many scholars have pointed out, climate change has proved a challenging story for media tell and many have repeatedly called for a diversification of narratives (for example, Boykoff, 2011; Carvalho, 2007; Hulme, 2009; McComas & Shanahan, 1999). However, the additional challenges for national news media with significant indigenous publics are the lack of consistent coverage of indigenous peoples, the lack of historical context for understanding current social and environmental issues, and the long sedimentation of under- and mis-representations and persistent stereotyping (Alia, 1999; Anderson & Robertson, 2011; Meadows & Avison, 2000; Pietikainen, 2003; Pratt, 2008; Smith, 1999). These challenges become that much more acute when representing indigenous people in relation to climate change, which requires an awareness of TEK, regard for indigenous expertise, knowledge of political activism at transnational events, and historically nuanced insights into how and what communities might be struggling with in relation to climate change.
Roosvall and Tegelberg (2013) looked at the framing of indigenous people in 4 Canadian and Swedish newspapers during COP 15 in Copenhagen in 2009, and found coverage to be very sparse (7/419 articles). Their keyword search of over 3,200 headlines from 19 different countries was similarly sparse with only 6 titles mentioning indigenous people. However, in a country like Canada with a large Arctic region and indigenous groups like the Inuit Circumpolar Council who have been active and vocal at successive COPs, it is rather shocking to see the national newspaper, The Globe and Mail featured no articles (out of 129) on indigenous people. Stoddart and Smith (2016) studied the same paper and Canada’s other national paper, The National Post over a longer period of time, between 2006 and 2010, in order to understand how the Arctic was framed. They found the Arctic was not central in news about climate change in Canada, and that indigenous people were rarely quoted. Instead, the “idea of the north” was largely articulated by southerners: government, universities, research centers, and civil society. Callison (2016) similarly found that even at COP 21 in Paris, neither national paper quoted northern indigenous people and the Arctic was only once the focus of their COP 21 coverage.
On Proxies and Thinking With the “Frontline” of Climate Change
The Arctic has often been framed as a kind of canary, bellwether, or proxy for the present and direct impacts of climate change that can already be seen and experienced. The recession of Arctic sea ice in 2007, for example, created what Christensen, Nilsson, and Wormbs (2013) refer to as a media event, where complex global media with multiple nodes of connectivity influence societies, publics, media, and individuals in multifaceted ways. Bodenhorn in Diemberger et al. (2012) point out that though the Arctic may be a good proxy for understanding and witnessing climate change, this doesn’t mean indigenous peoples in the Arctic are also a proxy. Reducing people to proxies ignores the ways in which indigenous peoples have adapted and conceived of their ecosystems as always evolving (Bodenhorn & Ulturgasheva, 2017). Hence, the need for northerners to be understood and represented as the experts on the North and its ongoing changes.
Analyses in disparate national media in Canada, Australia, and Sweden find that the problem of framing as either proxy or victim is a common thread. Most media audiences for these countries are situated away from either the regions in their countries or the nearby countries in their region that are already deeply impacted by climate change. Farbotko (2005) found in her study of the Sydney Morning Herald’s coverage of Tuvalu that “implicating climate change in the identity of people and place can construct Tuvaluans as ‘tragic victims’” (p. 280). Roosvall and Tegelberg conclude that Swedish and Canadian national media frame Indigenous people as intermediaries, witnessing climate change as victim-witnesses or hero-witnesses and “seldom portrayed as actors in their own right with political agency” (2013, p. 405) As victim-witnesses, indigenous people are the most affected by impacts, and as hero-witnesses, they possess much needed knowledge that will help address the grand challenge of climate change for the world. Even heroic knowledge though doesn’t present Indigenous people as uncontested experts. Stoddart and Smith (2016) concur that Inuit experiential-based TEK is framed as evidence of a transforming Arctic, but they find that it is always juxtaposed with non-Inuit scientific knowledge. Authority and legitimacy hang in the balance even as meaning making and ethical actions also remain contested.
The hopeful framing some scholars see is in the implicit de-nationalization that indigenous people employ that might help to transcend national media coverage of COPs as “a political game between nation-states with domestic perspectives” on global issues and negotiations (Roosvall & Tegelberg, 2013, p. 405). While indigenous experiences and knowledges can vault climate change into a transnational framework— “a global challenge for us all,” Marino (2015) and Callison (2014) point out that indigenous stories that express urgency might make it “real” but rarely produce an understanding of underlying challenges and particularities related to social histories, complex ecological interactions, and power relations. Arctic communities and island nations in the South Pacific provide an important case study in this respect. Shishmaref in Alaska and Tuvalu, located in the Southern Pacific Ocean, have played outstanding roles in representing the severity of already present, ongoing, and future impacts of climate change. Both locations have become prominent global symbols emblematic of both what climate change looks like, and what it portends for indigenous peoples, and in both cases, their stories are much more complicated and complex than journalistic forms and styles can or do represent.
Shishmaref is located on barrier islands in the Chukchi Sea, north of the Bering Strait. It has been in continual use for thousands of years as an Inupiat whaling village.1 Increasingly intense storms, coastal erosion, and permafrost melt are causing buildings to fall into the ocean, and destabilizing infrastructure on the island. Images of Shishmaref were among the first to demonstrate irrefutable evidence of climate change effects that were already underway. They became part of a suite of imagery that early on got dubbed “climate porn” even while such images also became transformative and iconic (Callison, 2014).
Marino’s ethnography explains the media fascination this way: “Shishamaref—like the concept of environmental migration itself—burst onto the scene, providing what seemed like an unmistakable example of climate change (the ice is melting!) paired with outcome (the people are fleeing!)” (p. 9). Marino (2015) finds that even as Shishmaref emerged as “an example of what anthropogenic climate change meant in real terms, for real people, on the ground,” much of the sensational reporting often represented Inupiat residents without agency, as victims. What goes unreported is the history of Shishmaref where forced settlement gave way to colonial infrastructure that Marino argues has resulted in a particular kind of vulnerability resulting from colonialism, amplified by climate change impacts. After years of negotiation and community discussion detailed by Marino, in 2016, Shishmaref voted to relocate.
Tuvalu, a country of 9 islands comprising 26 square kilometers, while geographically distant and in a completely different climate zone, is also subject to more intense storms and sea level rise such that inundation of their islands might occur. As a country, Tuvalu has been forced to consider relocation of its 10,000 citizens. Tuvalu has been active at the international level through the Association of Small Island States (AOSIS) in order to draw attention to the inequities of climate change and potential forced migration. Tuvalu and other nations that are part of AOSIS are responsible for less than 1% of greenhouse gas emissions, but are vulnerable because of predicted sea level rise (Wong, 2011).
Chambers and Chambers (2007) in their review of five documentaries on the islands characterize Tuvalu as coming “to epitomize the approaching environmental catastrophe of worldwide climate change and sea-level rise.” However, Mortreux and Barnett (2009) contend that while climate change poses real and serious risks, incessant media attention has created a discourse of displacement that “obstructs] the space needed for meaningful analysis and careful debate about the magnitude and timing of risks, and the best ways to avoid and respond to them” (p. 106). Such discourses not only position migration as the default adaptive measure, they “downplay the resilience of communities, cast them as powerless, and risk reifying otherwise perceived relationships of inequality between the powerful and weak through paternalistic interventions to ‘save’ the powerless Other” (p. 106). Like Marino’s analysis of the infrastructural legacies of colonialism in Shishmaref, focusing on climate change impacts also detract from a discussion of other issues related to globalization and capitalism that drive migration and amplify vulnerability (Cameron, 2011; Farbotko, 2010).
Three Persistent Framing Problems (and Solutions): Climate Justice, Scale, and Agency
The pressing set of considerations about the potential futures that confront these indigenous communities are stark. And while they are among the most prominent, they are certainly not alone in facing major changes both in their regions and in other regions around the world. What these cases bring into focus are several threads that are common critiques for media in representing indigenous publics in relation to climate change.
The first thread rests on the notion of climate justice, which highlights the ways in which most greenhouse gas emissions stem from activities far from those who are most directly affected. At the same time, it provides an alternative frame to vulnerability and victimization as a result of climate change where indigenous peoples are represented as experts, agents, and resilient knowledgeable communities (Cuomo, 2011; Whyte, 2013b). Stoddart and Smith (2016) point out that “climate justice is often at the margins of mass media framing of climate change” (p. 318), and this has particular contours in Canada where indigenous communities across the sub-Arctic and Arctic face social and ecological impacts of climate change while most of the Canadian carbon footprint comes from Southern Canada, and in particular the Alberta oil sands. However, Dreher and Voyer (2015) similarly find that climate justice frames are rare in Australian media, which cover small island nations like Tuvalu located in their region.
Justice, however, is not only confined to expected core-periphery differentials, but also when considering symbolic animals like the polar bear. Listing polar bears as endangered species as a result of climate change impacts is highly contested by Inuit communities and organizations who contend that it damages their economy, and distracts from more significant impacts and drivers of climate change (Callison, 2014; Stoddart & Smith, 2016; Wright, 2014). Very rarely were Inuit voices heard by national or global media on this subject.
For many, the polar bear listing reprises the similar problems resulting from the antisealing animal rights campaigns that had an enormous negative social, cultural, and economic impact on Inuit communities. The recent #sealfie social media phenomenon reflects some of this same sentiment from many of the same Inuit voices who spoke out about the polar bear listing (Rodgers & Scobie, 2015). Whyte has characterized the wide-ranging climate-related concerns among indigenous people as concerns about “collective continuance,” which he defines as “a community’s fitness for making adjustments to current or predicted change in ways that contest colonial hardships and embolden comprehensive aims at robust living” (2014, p. 602). Whyte suggests that “the ecological challenges of climate change are entangled, or coupled, with political obstructions” and societal institutions can either create more constraints or opportunities for indigenous communities intent on their collective continuance (2013a, p. 521). Certainly, media has a role to play in holding societal institutions accountable for both constraints or opportunities. Climate justice frames provide one avenue for these kinds of stories.
Problems of Scale
The second thread is the scalar aspect of climate change predictions. Most climate impact assessments are done on a global scale with some assessments that include regional adaptations and predictions. Media are likely to follow suit given that IPCC expertise and data, for example, often don’t lend themselves to localization, and major national media that have been studied by social science researchers are likely to be either nationally or globally focused (Stoddart, Haluza-Delay, & Tindall, 2016). In their summary of common media frames for the Arctic, Pincus and Ali (2016) note that the Arctic is most often framed as in conflict or competition for resources broadly, or in more specific terms related to conflicts leftover from the Cold War between the United States and Russia or between oil extraction and environmental concerns. These broad frames often leave out the scalar aspects that are particular poignant in the Arctic where broad global interplay between nation-states and/or corporations and environmental activism have trickle down effects to Arctic communities, but hardly reflect the challenges of Arctic communities. Henry Huntington (in Christensen, Nilsson, & Wormbs, 2013) compared the media event of sea-ice loss in 2007 to indigenous perspectives in Alaska, and found that while “the local story remains inextricably linked to the global one, and vice versa.” Yet, they don’t always correspond with each other nor do local coastal events always correspond as exemplars of larger global patterns. Both local and global stories of climate change still reinforce a generalized narrative that the Arctic is changing rapidly and its future uncertain.
Conversely, several scholars have recently studied the impact of media coverage on indigenous observations of change. Marin and Berkes (2013) investigated whether or not media accounts influenced local perceptions of climate change, and found that this was highly unlikely because of the way media framed and interpreted climate change in a way that was “disconnected from local realities.” Fernández-Llamazares et al. (2015) similarly concluded that the “epistemological gap” was too wide between media reports on climate change that were overly general and decontextualized and Indigenous cultural perspectives and local experiences.
Given that scale is also related to climate justice, Stoddart and Smith (2016) identify a multi-scalar focus on regional, national, and transnational issues as a potential avenue for improving media coverage and centering climate change as an issue of climate justice. While Olausson and Berglez (2014) don’t specifically address indigenous issues, they amplify this call by also tasking media with conducting deeper and ongoing analyses of power relations in reporting on climate change. Their call is particularly relevant given that Arctic leaders and scholars like Cochran et al. (2013) have noted that media attention has not consistently translated into indigenous people having a voice where mitigation and adaptation policies are being developed despite the stakes for many of these communities who will bear the brunt of both initial and long-term climatic changes.
Agency and Human Rights
The third thread, agency is enmeshed with climate justice and scale as well. As noted in the previous section, media in many countries and globally have long been challenged to represent Indigenous peoples as non-other and non-victim generally, and climate change has amplified these tendencies and introduced some complexity since indigenous experiences are often seen as important instruments for educating mainstream audiences about climate change. In Australian media, Cameron (2011) argues that small island developing states (SIDS), like Tuvalu and Kiribati in the Pacific are “constructed as both a climate front line and a microcosm of a planet in crisis” where “complex global effects are scaled down to a level of conceivability” such that the need to mitigate emissions elsewhere becomes apparent (p. 883). Cameron concludes that the underlying ideal that a cosmopolitan global ecological citizenry will emerge and with such education in hand, take equally global action on climate change is just that, an ideal.
Dreher and Voyer (2015) identify the consequences of such instrumentalization in Australian media as resulting in frames where SIDS are seen as “proof” of climate change (similar to the proxy issue raised earlier), victims of climate change, destinations for salvage tourism (“see it before it’s all gone”), and where SIDS citizens are reframed as climate refugees. In their research with the people of Kiribati, Dreher and Voyer asked what frames they would like to see media use when reporting on their island communities. The people of Kiribati responding by saying they wanted to be known as the Kateia Kei Kei (translated as “People of Hope”), as “active ‘change agents’ developing climate change response strategies including ‘migration with dignity’” (p. 73). Kiribati residents vigorously rejected being seen as refugees, but rather as proactively working toward meeting their community’s needs through judicious planning and foresight. They argued instead for a human rights perspective so that they are not merely framed as “proof of what developed countries will face” (p. 67).
The human rights frame has become a powerful intervening frame that affords agency to indigenous people, and offers a distinct antidote to the victim and proof frames (Maldonado et al., 2013). Such framing draws heavily from discussions that led to UNDRIP, and from a petition put forward at the 2005 Montreal COP by Sheila Watt-Cloutier, then head of the Inuit Circumpolar Council. Watt-Cloutier and 62 Inuit people brought a case to the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights that specifically named the United States because of its inaction on reducing greenhouse gas emissions to mitigate the effects of climate change. Based on oral testimony from Inuit people and evidence from the Arctic Climate Impact Assessment, the petition claimed that climate change was already happening and would continue to erode basic human rights to life and physical security, personal property, health, practice of culture, use of land traditionally used and occupied, and the means of subsistence. The petition announcement was well covered, but its rejection was not nor did media do much to hold either the Commission or the United States accountable for these claims (Callison, 2014). Watt-Cloutier was later asked by the Commission to give testimony about the vulnerabilities of indigenous peoples around the world in 2007, but no action resulted from the Commission.
Watt-Cloutier is one of the few indigenous leaders to have national and global profile as a climate expert thanks in part to her nomination for a Nobel Peace Prize in 2008. In her autobiography, titled The Right to be Cold (2015), she describes the petition as emerging from her desire for the majority of the world’s population who live in cities to recognize the “profound interconnectedness” of the global environment such that they could relate to “vulnerable communities around the world, as a shared humanity” (p. 221). In some ways, Watt-Cloutier turns vulnerability as a frame upside down with this statement so that connectedness makes everyone vulnerable and the burden of change a shared one. Watt-Cloutier first worked on the problem of persistent organic pollutants prior to tackling climate change, and was well aware of the way industrialization traveled far and wide, enough to contaminate some of the most remote parts of the Arctic and pose health risks and danger to Inuit people whose lifeways revolve around Arctic ecosystems. However, she says in her book that in hindsight this was part of the insurmountable challenge when it came to the petition and convincing the Commission to hear Inuit concerns: “as hard as it is for many people to understand, for us Inuit, ice matters. Ice is life.” So even as human rights afford agency as a frame for climate change and indigenous people, media representations of the multiple meaning, experiences, and perspectives of indigenous publics grappling with climate change represents a distinctive challenge (Callison, 2014).
The new and hybrid media landscape (Chadwick, 2013) presents both opportunities and a gauntlet for media and for scholars. For many indigenous people, direct presence and address through social media has provided opportunities to access a “middle ground” and have their voices heard even while they remain underrepresented in national and global media coverage (Callison & Hermida, 2015). For example, in response to the Paris Agreement, current ICC chair Okalik Eegeesiak used Twitter to state continuously that countries had failed—a minority perspective given so much of the self-congratulation among countries and NGOs who were present (Mothe, 2015). Though indigenous people were mentioned in the Agreement (as the next section explains), the Arctic, which is heavily impacted at many times the rate of other regions was not specifically mentioned. Only one news outlet picked up Egeesiak’s dissent—an online blog “Eye on the Arctic” operated by journalists from Canada’s public broadcaster (Quinn, 2015). Inuit filmmakers like the acclaimed director Zacharias Kunuk have also begun to utilize online spaces with his film on Inuit knowledge of climate change, entirely in Inuktitut with English subtitles (Kunuk & Mauro, 2010). In effect, much like the continued use and importance of TEK, indigenous people are using new media platforms to continue to push for representation, self-determination, and a voice in the agreements and assessments that will have an effect on their strategies and opportunities for adaptation.
Where Are Indigenous People in Formal Climate Agreements and Scientific Reports?
Indigenous people have continuously called for more engagement with scientific researchers, with some successes. Indigenous peoples have also been the subject of many social science research endeavors, and active participants in domestic and international political arenas like the Arctic Council and at successive annual UNFCCC conferences. However, indigenous people have not been mentioned in UNFCCC documents and IPCC reports until very recently. As should be abundantly clear from the prior sections, media have not addressed this in their reporting despite their responsibilities to hold governments accountable on behalf of indigenous publics.
The original UN Framework Convention for Climate Change (UNFCCC), drafted in 1992 at the Rio Summit, recognized the inherent vulnerability of low lying islands, but notably excluded the Arctic. It also did not mention indigenous people nor did the subsequent Kyoto Protocol in 1997. Every year since 1992, the UNFCCC has held a Conference of the Parties (COP). In recent years, COPs have become media events and are generally well covered by global and national media. At COPs, Indigenous Peoples’ Organizations (IPOs) are granted observer status in the same category as NGOs, Trade Unions, local and municipal governments, and others. They comprise about 2% of these organizations whose numbers have steeply increased since 2009 (Climate Policy Hub, 2015). This is markedly different than the UN Convention on Biological Diversity where indigenous people can comment, draft text, and participate when issues of concern are discussed (Ford, Maillet, et al., 2016; Schroeder, 2010).
There were no explicit references to indigenous people or the Arctic until COP 11 in Montreal in 2005 (Ford, Maillet, et al., 2016). This is the COP where Watt-Cloutier announced the Inuit human rights petition. The COP 15 Report in Copenhagen in 2009 mentions indigenous people twice in its decisions, but not in the formal Accord. Prior to this COP, indigenous people had gathered in Alaska to draft a joint statement known as The Anchorage Declaration to advise the UNFCCC. The expectations for Copenhagen were immense, and indigenous peoples were intent on working together to have their concerns addressed. The Declaration calls for specific emissions targets, recognition of TEK, and formal structures and mechanisms for indigenous Peoples to participate in UNFCCC. It asks all UNFCCC agreements and principles to reflect “the spirit and the minimum standards contained in UNDRIP.” The Declaration had little formal effect in Copenhagen later that year.
The following year in 2010, after COP 15 continued to sideline indigenous concerns, a gathering of indigenous people was held in Cochabamba, Bolivia. The resulting People’s Agreement affirms some of the same statements made in the Anchorage Declaration, and extends much further, indicting capitalism, calling for a new global system “that restores harmony with nature and among human beings,” and setting out parameters for human rights, the rights of the earth, and climate justice. The People’s Agreement also formally rejected the Copenhagen Accord. Neither the Anchorage Declaration or the gathering in Cochabamba were well covered by most national and global media. This, despite 35,000 people attending the Cochabamba event (Lindisfarne, 2010).
It wasn’t until COP16 in Cancun in 2010 that indigenous people began to be mentioned with frequency in terms of both impact and adaptation. Ford, Maillet, et al. (2016) note that COP16 frames indigenous concerns as human rights concerns. However, there is no mention of UNDRIP despite its ratification well before these meetings. The most recent UNFCCC Paris Agreement in 2015 mentions indigenous people twice. Indigenous people are considered in the context of human rights, and with regards to adaptation actions that should be guided by both science and indigenous knowledge.
Cochran et al. (2013) point out that it is not enough to merely mention indigenous people; partnerships, mutual respect, and community engagement are essential to developing response strategies for climate change. They state:
Despite a keen awareness of climate change, northern indigenous people have not played a central role in national and international assessments of climate change. The extent that indigenous issues are considered, assessments have been largely about indigenous people, not by them. This reflects, in part, a rejection by western science of indigenous worldviews that integrate spiritual, biophysical, and cultural dimensions of reality. (pp. 558–559)
That indigenous peoples should be afforded agency in assessment processes, and that TEK is often sidelined are not dissimilar to the critiques about media representation. The stakes, however, are high when considering the reach that climate assessments have, and the lack of participation and collaboration that is structured into the processes. Kimmerer (2002) has called for the integration of TEK into science education such that “cultural framework of respect, reciprocity, and responsibility in which it is embedded” might be used to solve environmental problems (p. 432). Whyte (2013a) has situated both inclusion of TEK and the collaboration and participation of indigenous people in assessments and agreements that address mitigation and adaptation as a broader issue of justice, and has suggested a framework for assessing adaptation plans that articulates justice as a system of responsibilities. Institutions like the UNFCCC and the IPCC in Whyte’s framework would have the responsibility to both bring TEK alongside and collaborate in order to fulfill their obligations and be accountable.
Differences in Assessments: IPCC and the Arctic Climate Impact Assessment
Similar to the UNFCCC, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) has only recently begun to integrate TEK and indigenous perspectives into its reports. The 2007 IPCC 4th Assessment report from Working Group 2 explicitly called for indigenous knowledge to be included. In the lead up to the 5th Assessment, Ford et al. (2012) looked carefully at the authors of the report and found that only 2.9% of contributing authors had published on indigenous people and climate change, and these authors were only involved with 6/30 chapters. After the 5th Assessment was released, Ford, Cameron, et al. (2016) found that there were 60% more mentions of indigenous people or knowledge. Indigenous people were either framed exclusively as victims of climate change or TEK was considered in the context of management, adaptation, and monitoring impacts. Ford, Cameron, et al. (2016) identify four other concerning points, namely that:
(1) “there are limited references to indigenous territory or land, or recognition of how land rights, dispossession, colonization or historic inequities affect vulnerability or adaptive capacity to climate change”;
(2) Indigenous issues are only generally referred to, silencing “certain realities, conditions, and experiences”;
(3) “there is limited critical engagement with the diversity, range, and complexities of indigenous knowledge systems”; and
(4) “the historical and contextual complexities that underpin indigenous peoples’ experiences with and responses to climate change are largely overlooked” such that the ways in which climate change amplifies risk remains unaccounted for. (p. 350)
In contrast, Smith and Sharp (2012) and Ford, Cameron, et al. (2016) argue that the 2004 Arctic Climate Impact Assessment report should serve as a model for the UNFCCC and the IPCC. The ACIA was the first scientific report to integrate traditional knowledge and scientific findings, and to involve indigenous people throughout the process of drafting the report (Martello, 2008). Full of vivid imagery of indigenous people and Arctic landscapes, Martello argues that the ACIA also acted as differently configured and highly visual index for representations of both knowledge and indigenous people. Smith and Sharp (2012) offer several reasons why ACIA may have been more successful at integrating indigenous knowledge:
1. ACIA was a regional study and therefore “sensitive to local impacts and indigenous perspectives”;
2. ACIA was co-sponsored by the Arctic Council, which has indigenous people as permanent participants and therefore structural support and openness to indigenous knowledge and perspectives;
3. lead chapter authors were scholars who had long histories of working with indigenous people on indigenous issues; and
4. the long history of indigenous activism particularly by the Inuit Circumpolar Council, a permanent participant of the Arctic Council likely “served to legitimize the inclusion of Inuit voices” (p. 472).
Smith and Sharp further point out that the framing of climate change as a global issue can detract from catastrophic effects at the local level, and that both scientists and social scientists can play a crucial role in helping to narrate what matters as well as to include indigenous voices. While the increasing inclusion of TEK is important, they argue, what those terms of inclusion are must be continuously evaluated, and knowledge and knowledge holders need to remain connected. Green and Raygorodetsky (2010) similarly argue for the integration of TEK into both research and any resulting climate agreements. In a somewhat ominous tone, they state:
Even if sweeping global climate change agreements are reached swiftly, the present global responses to climate change—either proposed or already implemented—will ultimately fail unless they are grounded in recognition of such basic human rights as the territorial, land, and resource rights of local custodians of global biocultural heritage—the backbone of strategies for adaptation and resilience. Such recognition is inseparable from creating an equitable and respectful space for knowledge co-creation that brings together local Indigenous and conventional scientific paradigms for the purpose of developing climate change mitigation and adaptation strategies and actions. (p. 242)
Here then lies an important task for media in fulfilling their responsibilities both for indigenous publics and broader mainstream publics. Representing indigenous knowledges and peoples with agency and within a broader frame that acknowledges issues related to climate justice are essential contributions to the processes of drafting and agreeing on appropriate and sustainable adaptation and mitigation responses.
In considering indigenous peoples as publics, this article has sought to bring a range of scholarship together to address the lack of both media analyses and media coverage of indigenous peoples, as well as persistent critiques of media representations that become acute when covering climate change impacts. Bravo has pointed out that the larger climate change narrative “is built exclusively on the language of scientific expertise and physical causation, and is not equipped to deal with politically, economically, legally and socially complex responses” (2009, p. 259). However, as this article has shown, indigenous experiences with climate change are intertwined with colonialism and issues of knowledge, politics, history, law, and economics.
Narrating climate change in indigenous terms requires an acknowledgment of what Whyte (2013a) has called the need for “collective continuance” such that indigenous concerns might be understood as existing within a system of responsibilities. Whyte argues that just and appropriate measures for climate change mitigation and adaption flow from this system and extend to societal institutions. Cuomo (2011) articulates it this way: “Those who are categorically in harm’s way are ethical agents and community members with individual and collective priorities and capacities, not sitting ducks requiring paternalistic regard, despite the fact that they may be entitled to resources for dealing with the impacts of problems created by wealthy corporations and societies.” This complexity that enmeshes knowledge, experience, and historical relations as well as the sedimentation of past representations present distinctive challenges for all media.
For journalists, telling climate change stories in a way that reflects agency, climate justice, and multi-scalar multicultural perspectives presents a divergent set of gauntlets when news norms and values are often predicated on novelty, conflict, dramatization, and personalization (Boykoff, 2011). As Boykoff and Yulsman (2013) note, “The cultural politics of climate change are situated, power-laden, mediated, and recursive in an ongoing battlefield of knowledge and interpretation.” For indigenous people and publics, this “ongoing battlefield” comes with some distinct disadvantages in part because of the disproportionate vulnerabilities they tend to share and the ways in which such vulnerabilities have been framed or not understood. The complexities and contexts for understanding indigenous knowledges about and experiences with climate change involve recognizing and representing both harm and resilience as well as other diverse knowledge systems and perspectives.
The current trajectory toward needing better processes for adaptation highlights how media might facilitate resilience and accountability for indigenous publics. Broader interventions from scholars are also required that take into account the challenges set out by Olausson and Berglez (2014) to understand how power relations are reproduced and the discursive formations that either exclude indigenous peoples or fall into typical victim narratives even while indigenous peoples continue to mobilize around human rights frames and utilize TEK to consider adapting to evolving climatic challenges. Attention to regional media, direct representation through social media, and other online platforms in addition to mainstream media will likely provide a much needed counterpoint to current approaches. As Cruikshank observes, “The search for a common world is immensely more complicated now that so many radically different ways of inhabiting the earth are being deployed” (2012, p. 249). Recognizing and representing this diversity of being requires an acknowledgment of the systems, institutions, and histories that have situated indigenous people in particular ways, and articulating the impacts of climate change and its potential futures where indigenous modes of resilience are seen as resources for collective continuance.
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(1.) In Alaska, Inupiat is the term for people who traditionally speak Inuktitut and associate with the Inuit Circumpolar Council. Formerly, Alaskan Inuit were called Eskimos but this is considered an offensive term in Canada and Greenland.