Last Days of the Arctic: Icelandic Photographer Ragnar Axelsson Has Been Travelling to Greenland for Three Decades, Documenting the Traditional Hunting Culture of the Remote Inuit Communities in the Frozen North. His New Book, Last Days of the Arctic, Is a Testament to a Way of Life That, Due to Social, Industrial and Climatic Change Is Slowly Disappearing

By Axelsson, Ragnar | Geographical, April 2011 | Go to article overview

Last Days of the Arctic: Icelandic Photographer Ragnar Axelsson Has Been Travelling to Greenland for Three Decades, Documenting the Traditional Hunting Culture of the Remote Inuit Communities in the Frozen North. His New Book, Last Days of the Arctic, Is a Testament to a Way of Life That, Due to Social, Industrial and Climatic Change Is Slowly Disappearing


Axelsson, Ragnar, Geographical


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PREVIOUS SPREAD: an Inuit hunter near Uunartoq, Greenland, unties a seal from his net. The nets are set under the ice--as the seals come up to breathe, they become entangled. The word inuit means 'the people', and today, about 155,000 Inuit inhabit the Arctic, from east Greenland across the Arctic islands and mainland of northern Canada to the coast of Alaska and across to Chukotka on the Russian side of the Bering Strait; OPPOSITE: a lone husky weathers a blizzard in Ittoqqortoormiit, east Greenland. These hardy, semiwild working dogs easily withstand the extreme conditions of the polar environment and are kept outside year-round. Descended from the wolf, the Greenland breed of husky was brought here in about 1100 by the Thule people and has stayed pure due to its isolation; ABOVE: Mikide Kristiansen unravels the strings of his yoke out on the ice in northwestern Greenland. Here, unlike in many other parts of the Arctic, dog sledges are the main mode of transport during winter. Teams are harnessed to the sledge in a fan formation, allowing the dogs to run together, similar to the way they would run as a pack in the wild

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LEFT: often called the 'King of Thule: Masauna, from Qaanaaq, northwest Greenland, yells at his dogs as the sledges approach a crack in the ice. The northwest coast of Greenland is home to some of the world's most intuitive traditional subsistence hunters. But the changing climate here has made hunters and fishermen more anxious than ever before about travelling at the sinaaq (edge of the ice)--they say that it is quasarpoq ('more slippery') than they have known it, and that they feel more secure sledging on the solid ice attached to the shore. While the Inuit have developed the capacity and flexibility to harvest a diversity of animal and plant species in all seasons, climate change is testing them in ways they haven't encountered in living memory. Changes in snow cover are causing difficulty in gaining access to hunting and fishing areas by sled. Inuit accounts say that changes in climate and local ecosystems can be noticed not only in the shifting migration routes and altered behaviour of seals and caribou, but also in the very taste of the flesh of these animals. Climate change is considered by many Inuit to be a human rights issue. They argue that their cultural survival is dependent on the continued presence of ice and snow

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ABOVE LEFT: Masauna rests on his sled at the end of a successful hunting day with one of his fellow hunters. The Inuit word for hunter is piniartoq, which literally translates as 'one who wants'. Animal rights and environmental groups campaign against traditional seal- and whale-hunting activities--but from an Inuit perspective, threats to wildlife and the environment come not from hunting, but from air and sea pollution entering the Arctic from the industrial south; TOP: the hunters from Qaanaaq jump between ice floes while harpooning a narwhal. …

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Last Days of the Arctic: Icelandic Photographer Ragnar Axelsson Has Been Travelling to Greenland for Three Decades, Documenting the Traditional Hunting Culture of the Remote Inuit Communities in the Frozen North. His New Book, Last Days of the Arctic, Is a Testament to a Way of Life That, Due to Social, Industrial and Climatic Change Is Slowly Disappearing
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