Pangnirtung, Nunavut

Understanding the impact of climate change on perceptions and practices related to water safety in Pangnirtung

Project Summary – How We Are Leading the Way

Our research sought to identify Pangnirtung residents’ views about whether or not climate change was having an impact on water, snow, and ice. In addition, we sought to understand whether or not/how these changes impact perceptions of water-related risk as well as water safety-related behaviour.

This research built on the findings of a three-year long project funded through the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council (SSHRC) (Principal Investigator: Dr. Audrey Giles) that included three months of fieldwork in Pangnirtung in the summer of 2008 (fieldwork was also conducted in six other Northern communities). The SSHRC project focuses on the history of the NWT Aquatics Program (which includes what is now Nunavut) and the ways in which water safety might be improved for Northern residents, who drown at rates that are alarmingly high when compared to the rest of the Canadian population.

In Pangnirtung, we learned that community members are very interested in the impact that climate change is having on ice, snow, and water conditions, which is believed to enhance the vulnerability of people who are out on the land. This area of interest, however, is outside of the scope of Dr. Giles’ SSHRC research project. Through this funding opportunity, the Hamlet of Pangnirtung, Dr. Giles, her colleague Dr. Shaelyn Strachan, and graduate students Gwenyth Stadig (who is the student who conducted the original research in the community), Michelle Doucette-Palmer, and local co-researchers Leah Kilabuk, Selina Kisa, Henry Mike, and Tommy Papatsie, conducted research that focuses on Pangnirtung residents’ climate change concerns as they pertain to water, boat, and ice safety.

Our Approach


  • Interviews and focus groups were conducted with youths, adults and Elders to learn about climate change effects in their community.
    • Asked all participants to provide additional analysis of their contributions and also to help to develop the next steps for the research.
    • After receiving participants’ feedback, we decided that the research findings would be best addressed in the form of materials (see results).
  • Two one week trips were taken to conduct interviews and report results back to the community.


The following were recurring themes in the interviews and focus groups:

Ice and Snow Melt/Safety and Changing Weather Patterns

Both children and Elders spoke about ice safety and how it relates to currently unpredictable seasons and year-to-year differences in the freeze and thaw cycle. Elders repeatedly mentioned the visible change in the glacial cover in the fjords surrounding Pangnirtung.  –  E.g. “During the 50s, 60s, 1965 during those years the glaciers on the mountain tops never used to melt, always used to be the same…There used to be glaciers all over the mountain tops…Back then the ice used to froze very early and it wouldn’t melt until the next year…We live in glacier area, and since it has been melting rapidly, the rivers are more rapid” (male Elder). 

Changing Animal and Plant Patterns

Many people spoke about the differences in animal habitat, life cycles, migration and overall existence in the Arctic.  For example, hunters have noted that seals are present all year long instead of coming in and out of the fjord seasonally; polar bear numbers are much higher than usual (some people speak of seeing multiple bears in one day, which is exponentially more than a single bear being seen over months in the past); animals are birthing and maturing in unusual sequences (male Elder).

Skepticism about Global Warming

Interesting perspectives were shared about the categorization of climate change as global warming: –  e.g. “when somebody says global warming we’re skeptical about that, climate change, definitely yes; global warming, I don’t know because we have this understanding about nature and the earth that it has its own reactions and its own way to deal with whatever it takes” (male adult).

Unstable Traditional Hunting/Transportation Routes

Hunters are increasingly finding their activities thwarted by changing stability of the land and ice paths to traditional hunting lands; – e.g. “we have all these traditional routes, whether it’s on the ice or whether it’s on the land, but because of the climate change, a lot of these traditional routes, we now have to vary from them because some of the ice conditions aren’t forming properly for one so we can’t go that route, we have to taking alternate routes” (adult male).

Capacity Building – Connecting the Guidance of the Past with the Needs of Today

Twenty-two people – youth, young adults, adults, Elders – participated in the research in the form of interviews and focus groups. We employed several community researchers. All community researchers received training in conducting interviews and community-based research. Importantly, they taught the university-based researchers a great deal and we know that we were truly fortunate to have these amazing Pangnirtung residents working with us. We feel that we did build capacity in a number of ways, particularly in terms of developing community members’ research skills (developing research questions, conducting interviews and focus groups, analyzing data, presenting data), but also the research teams’ ability to conduct responsive and responsible research for and with community members. Thus, bi-directional capacity was built.

Follow-up – How We Are Adapting to Climate Change

One academic paper will be submitted to a journal in early 2012. The results from the research were presented at a Health Canada workshop on climate change adaptation and to the Inuit Public Health Task Group.

We produced 100 thermoses (50 in English, 50 in Inuktitut) that used a community members’-generated list of items that people should take with them when they engage in aquatic-based activity in order to adapt to risks posed by climate change. We also had the same information published on 500 magnets. The magnets were distributed to school children, while the thermoses were distributed to Elders and hunters.

The research team would like to thank Health Canada for funding this research project and would also like to acknowledge Pangnirtung residents – particularly the community researchers, Hamlet staff, and participants, for making this research a success.


Community Profile

1424 (2011 Census)
Land Area:
7.77 sq km

Project Information

Years Funded:
Topic Area:
  • Dr. Audrey R. Giles, University of Ottawa, ([email protected])
  • Ron Mongeau, Senior Administrative Officier (SAO), Hamlet of Pangnirtung, P.O. Box 253, X0A 0R0

Map Location