A Northern moment: travel safety on sea ice in Inuit Nunangat (video)

The Government of Canada recognizes the importance that traveling on ice represents for many people across the North, in particular Inuit.

Their way of life and food security is affected by the impacts of climate change which is making ice travel much more hazardous. This is making activities dangerous, such as:

On November 4, 2020, the Minister of Northern Affairs, Daniel Vandal and the local Member of Parliament Michael McLeod, participated in a roundtable on this subject with:

The video explains how SmartICE's technology helps Inuit communities adapt to unpredictable ice conditions.


Text on screen: A Northern moment. Improving on-ice safety in Inuit Nunangat.

Inuit are using award-winning SmartICE technology to improve travel safety on sea ice in Inuit Nunangat and safeguard their way of life with support from the Government of Canada.

Hon. Dan Vandal, Minister of Northern Affairs: We all know that the impacts that climate change are having on everyone's lives, and especially in the North, where climate change is occurring 3 times faster than it is in the south. And I think it's important we all work together to understand how to better adapt to the rapidly changing climate.

Joe Dicker, AngajukKak (Mayor) of Nain, Nunatsiavut: Thank you for having the opportunity to speak to you, Minister.

Starting in the 80s and that, the – you could start seeing the effects of the climate change. Even though we said it's coming, it's coming, you know, we noticed that, you know, it was not always, you could not always depend on the traditional knowledge because situations with regard to the ice conditions were changing so fast that you couldn't rely on traditional travel routes anymore because of the way that the ice was taking longer to form or melting quicker, things like that.

Just this past year, for example, we could go to open water that was just past Rhodes Island, which is not far from here. It's just outside of the community. And all the big animals, like polar bears and that, are – goes by. And for the first time in recent history, the second time in my history anyway, we had a polar bear come into our community, which was very, very upsetting.

Rex Holwell, Northern Production and Regional Operations Lead, SmartICE: And then you have the people who, you know, will take that risk of actually travelling over the sea ice when it's not necessarily safe to get to their hunting ground, fishing ground, or, like Joe – Joe has mentioned, Julius, to their cabin. So, I mean, you know, people are unsure of the ice conditions, as opposed to back when it was less affected by climate change, and more people are taking those chances, and more people are – a lot of people say the ice is a lot more unpredictable and it's harder to read. And – which leads to people either being unsure and not actually going to their traditional hunting or fishing ground, and a lot of people here get wood for heating as well, so a lot of people won't actually travel over the sea ice to go get their winter wood supply to keep warm. So that just adds on to the high cost of living in Northern Canada.

So, I mean, with the hunting, people are not taking the chances, and they don't have their winter food supply, or they don't, you know, have enough of their traditional food. So, I mean, that has a huge impact. And as you know, in the North the food supply is a huge issue, so that just leads to that as well. So, I mean, the – it's having a huge effect.

Joe Dicker, AngajukKak (Mayor) of Nain, Nunatsiavut: So, these kind of technology is very, very important to the communities, and you know, SmartICE is just one avenue that is here in Nain, it's here in Nunatsiavut, and it's working. It's employing people, it's training people, getting them ready for – preparing them for other employment in some cases, and also encouraging them to carry on their education. Some of these students now that had been the first group, you know, some of them have gone back to school, which is a very good indication of how beneficial this program is to them.

Dr. Trevor Bell, Founding Director, SmartICE: The technology itself originates in science, so you'll find it on an icebreaker at the North Pole; you'll find it in Antarctica. What we did – so originally the scientist, Christian Haas from – in Germany, he was using it to measure changes in sea ice to measure the rate of climate change. And what I did was – who – I knew Christian, I worked with him to say how can we make this operational for communities. So instead of it collecting information and the data being analyzed 2 or 3 months later for scientific purposes, we developed it, with the help – support from the Government of Canada, we started to make it real-time information.

So as the operator travels on their snowmobile, up on the handlebars is a small computer that's telling them the thickness of the ice below them. And that's really important for the safety of the operator, but also, when they go back to the community, that all – everywhere they travelled is immediately – that information is immediately made available to the community.

We also have stationary sensors that just sit in the ice at places that the community decides are really dangerous or early indicators, and they – every day they just send back through satellite the information on how thick the ice is, how much snow is on the ice, and also the local temperature.

Yvonne Jones, Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Northern Affairs: I think the youth component is really original, and I love that about this project. So, I'd like to ask Shawna a question, if I could. And you know, you're a youth intern with this project for quite a while now. You know, what's probably one of the most important things you've learned here, or what would be your big takeaway as part of your experience as a young person who've grown up in Nunatsiavut and is now engaged with this project?

Shawna Dicker, Business Development Intern, SmartICE: That's a really great question. I think there's a lot of component that SmartICE puts to helping with youth. A big part of that is that they hire workers within the community. So, whoever they in trained by, they are either within the community or the people coming into the community are – they explain themselves, they have time to make icebreakers, get to know one another, to communicate, and just to create a safe space for youth to feel comfortable within their environment and not necessarily foreign in a space that they already know.

The business approach, or the social enterprise approach that SmartICE takes, really emphasizes the Indigenous values and belief systems that each Inuit Nunangat sector has, and they respect that, whether it's through the land, whether it's maximizing the resources, whether it's one-on-one communication. It's been – learning that process and that model through SmartICE has been really interesting.

Dr. Trevor Bell, Founding Director, SmartICE: I think it's been very important to SmartICE that we have that social enterprise approach so that our primary concern is having that positive impact in the communities. And from the perspective of Inuit self-determination, in these communities the elders and the representatives of community organizations are the ones who dictate how SmartICE should operate.

Hon. Dan Vandal, Minister of Northern Affairs: I really would love to visit your territory and get on the ice, get on the land. And I commend everyone who – who's played a role in this, and I appreciate all the work you're doing. Thank you.

Text on screen: Photos and supplemental video courtesy of SmartICE.

Text on screen: Canada wordmark

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