Putting ‘the language of the Earth on the agenda’

Indigenous leaders offer unique perspective on climate change

Nainoa Thompson at the podium

Climate change may finally be making headlines, but it is far from news. Addressing an overflow crowd at “The Land and the Waters Are Speaking: Indigenous Views on Climate Change” at Andover Hall on Thursday evening, Angaangaq Angakkorsuaq, an Eskimo Kalaallit elder and storyteller, recalled hearing of the first warning signs back in 1963.

The occasion was a traditional ceremony in which hunters in Greenland go inland to the glacier — the “big ice” — to give thanks.“ And they looked up there and water was trickling down,” said Angakkorsuaq. “The big ice was dripping water.” This was in January, when the temperature averaged 35 degrees below zero Celsius, a hard freeze that would typically last for three months. When a group of elders repeated the ceremony that March, they found the same stream. What they would eventually learn was that rising temperatures were creating lakes on top of the glacier, and that water was seeping down through cracks, accelerating further melting.

Angakkorsuaq, now 72, later became a runner for the elders, spreading news from village to village. It was with that mission that in 1978 he was sent to address the United Nations, where he spoke of the increasing melt. In a folksy, often humorous style, the silver-haired storyteller known as “Uncle” described being in the city, in a three-piece suit, and returning to tell his community about his triumph.

“Then all of a sudden, my beloved father stopped me and said, ‘Did they hear you?’ I said, ‘They gave me a standing ovation!’ And then he asked again, ‘Did they hear you?’ And he wanted to know if they heard my message from the elders: The ice is melting and it’s not good for the Earth and the people who live on her and the animals who live on her and the plants who live on her.”

Angakkorsuaq repeatedly drew the connection between the spiritual and the physical, linking kindness and love with stewardship of the Earth. “It’s too late to stop the melt of the big ice,” he said, frequently returning to this ominous note. “The ice will melt and the ocean will rise, and many of our families will lose their land. Boston will be under water. Where should we put you? Who should take care of you?” MORE


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