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We Used to Sing: An Arctic Elegy

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Uploaded on Feb 20, 2011

In the Arctic for the Inupiaq people, the world is changing faster than it ever has in our age of human beings. The ice is melting, communities are disappearing and the thawing ground is disrupting transportation. Most importantly, the animals of the Arctic who have provided the basis of Inupiaq culture are disappearing. Yet, as an Inupiaq elder says, "But the oceans will remember who we were. And the wind will remember our songs."

"We Used to Sing" is an artistic animation of how climate change is impacting the Arctic through the words of Victoria Hykes Steere, an Inupiaq human rights lawyer working on climate change in Alaska.

The Arctic is a critical component of the global climate system, and a changing Northern climate has worldwide implications. All of us in the industrialized world must come together to dramatically reduce greenhouse gas pollution. We have to ensure that vulnerable communities like the Arctic have the support they need to adapt. Industrialized countries like Canada must lead the way. Being profoundly impacted by climate change, the people of the Arctic are paying the cost of our lifestyles.

The Inupiaq are a culture of people that have drastically different interpretations of what is important. Their world is very harsh and unforgiving, but it sings with such beauty. "It takes your breath away and you have to remind yourself to breathe." It is a world of incredibly scarce resources. They have a very different sense of time, an entire lifetime can happen in a moment. They wear no watches, but use the environment as their clock. They speak in the "we" as the notion of "I" does not exist. Most importantly, with their message of climate sustainability, they are trying to save us while we are busy trying to kill them off. But it is Victoria's message on how to remain human that forms the backbone of this piece.

Her grandmother taught her how to live, but also how to die. Her people are willing to die to remain human. They are willing to die, and watch their children die, and everyone they know and love die, in order to obey the laws of their people and what it means to be human.

We have almost lost the chance with climate change and we need to hear her message. If her people are to die, let it be so that others may live.

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