Climate change and cultural survival in the arctic: People of the whales and muktuk politics

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9 Scopus citations


This article explores the interface of climate change and society in a circumpolar context, particularly experienced among the In upiaq people (In upiat) of Arctic Alaska. The In upiat call themselves the People of the Whales, and their physical and spiritual survival is based on their cultural relationship with bowhead whales. Historically the broader indigenous identity, spawned through their activism, has served to connect disparate communities and helped revitalize cultural traditions. Indigenous Arctic organizations such as the Inuit Circumpolar Conference (ICC) and the Alaska Eskimo Whaling Commission (AEWC) are currently building upon a strong success record of their past to confront the environmental problems of their future. Employing what the author calls muktuk politics-a culturally salient reference to the bowhead whale skin and the underlying blubber-the In upiaq have revitalized their cultural identity by participating in international debates on climate change, whaling, and human rights. Currently, the ICC and the AEWC identify Arctic climate change and its impact on human rights as their most important topics. The In upiat relationship with the land, ocean, and animals are affected by a number of elements including severe weather, climate and environmental changes, and globalization. To the In upiat, their current problems are different than those of the past, but they also understand that as long as there are bowhead whales they can subsist and thrive, and this is their goal. This new form of muktuk politics seeks to bring their current challenges to a wider audience by relying on more recent political experiences.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)76-89
Number of pages14
JournalWeather, Climate, and Society
Issue number2
StatePublished - Apr 2011
Externally publishedYes

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Global and Planetary Change
  • Social Sciences (miscellaneous)
  • Atmospheric Science


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