Canadian Inuit subsistence and ecological instability— if the climate changes, must the Inuit?


George W. Wenzel, Department of Geography, McGill University, Montréal H3A 2K6, Canada. E-mail:


Considerable attention has been devoted to the possible effects of global climate change on the environment of the circumpolar world. With regard to the Inuit, the aboriginal culture of Arctic Canada, research interest has focused principally on the vulnerability of the hunting and harvesting component of the traditional food system, otherwise frequently referred to as the subsistence system, if wild terrestrial and marine resources become less available. Although also concerned with the traditional Inuit food economy, this paper concentrates on the customary institutional mechanisms by which the Inuit distribute and share the products obtained from hunting. After analysing this social economy, a review of the data on recent climate-related range changes of a number of Arctic animal populations is carried out, in terms of how projected environmental changes may affect this other aspect of Inuit subsistence. After tentatively concluding that some species substitution and/or replacement will occur, the final aspect of the paper considers the potential for the possible exclusion of these “replacements” as a result of the political aspect of climate change.