The psychological scars of cabin fever and adaptation fatigue are adding to the immediate physical dangers for Indigenous people in Labrador of pursuing a traditional life on the thinning sea ice.
CBC News writes that 65-year-old Johannes Lamp, president of the self-governing Inuit territory of Nunatsiavut, has been watching the climate shift for years. But recently, those shifts have “sped up to a pace that poses a huge challenge for maintaining traditional ways of life and passing on those traditions.”
A particularly troubling evolution: the frequent arrival of a thick fog that prevents the traditional use of the moon, sun, and stars to predict the weather.
And the fog isn’t the only barrier to traditional practices. CBC writes that “2021 has proved to be a particularly dire year for the region’s sea ice, with the ice setting in late and ending up averaging between 25 to 30 centimetres thinner than normal.”
The thinning ice, coupled with (literally) unpredictable weather has brought radical—and psychologically and spiritually painful—changes to Inuit life, as people find themselves unable to travel, hunt, or make pilgrimages to ancestral homes. Such pilgrimages, said Lampe, are a source of essential spiritual nourishment.
Without the ability to conduct normal activities, a kind of cabin fever sets in. “And when you’re in cabin fever, you are not good to anybody,” he said.
Inuk elder Martha Winters-Abel told CBC she fears the risks of moving about on the thinning ice. “There are some young hunters that go off without really knowing what the ice conditions are like,” she said. “And some people can go through and something bad could happen. It’s just scary for me.”
Noting that she will soon be a great-grandmother for the first time, Winters-Abel said she also worries profoundly about future generations.
“They have to adapt. They have no other choice,” she said.
Such efforts at adaptation are already well under way. Lampe described, for example, how hunters now consult Facebook posts for real-time updates on the state of the ice. But the imperative to adapt carries its own heavy costs.
“Adaptation, and the pressure to adapt, can be very tiring and very exhausting,” said Ashlee Cunsolo, founding dean of the School of Arctic and Subarctic Studies at Memorial University’s Labrador Institute.
“When you’re carrying that level of burden and anxiety and stress, and trying to find new ways to do things that you’ve done for generations, that is definitely not only a stressor, but also a huge sense of exhaustion and fatigue,” she told CBC.