Keeping Cool


They have more than thirty words for 'snow'. They live in igloos, eat seal meat, wear polar bear furs, kill their elderly and lead polygamous lives. There are plenty of myths about the Eskimos, but one fact is certain: that a lifestyle by the sea doesn't leave you out of the 21st century.

A police chief goes through his files: a man frozen to death 15 feet from the door of a party, an intoxicated prostitute dead from exposure after being left outdoors by her client, a driver that fell off a snowmobile on New Year's Eve.

Just another Inughuit night. All across Alaska, Canada and Greenland, the lives of the Inughuit are plagued by violence, alcohol and crime. But it wasn't always that way.

For centuries the Inughuit, also known as the Polar Eskimos, have led a symbiotic life with the sea. They fished and hunted seals for food, melted ice to drink, and used otter and seal skins for clothing.

Fighting for survival in a hostile environment, the Inughuit were pantheists, they believed in harmony with the forces of the universe. Even today, the elderly are often seen simply staring at the sea in reverence. After all, everything came from the seas.

But the sea is no longer a source of bounty for the Inughuit. It has long been replaced by the supermarket. Modern clothing has undercut polar bear-skin pants and arctic fox boots, and rather than engaging with the sea, many Inughuit now surf a cyber ocean and watch their own TV shows from a centrally heated Scandinavian-style house.

For others, the transition to the new lifestyle has failed. Social stratification and widespread unemployment has brought violent conflict and numerous suicides to the Inughuit.

The future looks bleak when the ground melts beneath your feet. In the long term, the Inughuit may have to join the world's already numerous climate change refugees and move to more southern latitudes. Used to colorful interiors to balance the infinite white outside, the Inughuit may soon have to change their decorating habits to remember the whiteness.