From Thief to Igloo Builder: Participatory Digital Research on climate change with and For indigenous communities in Canada

From Thief to Igloo Builder: Participatory Digital Research on climate change with and For indigenous communities in Canada


Department of Geography, University of Winnipeg, Canada

For many decades, Inuit of the Canadian Arctic have been observing anthropogenic climate change taking place in their traditional territories, yet it is relatively recent that the insights and voices of Elders were documented in their native tongue using video. In 2010, acclaimed Inuk filmmaker Zacharias Kunuk (Atanarjuat The Fast Runner) and Dr. Ian Mauro released Qapirangajuq: Inuit Knowledge and Climate Change (, which is the world’s first Inuktitut language film on climate change. From interviews across Nunavut, Elders holistically described their observations of change related to ice, land, ocean and the atmosphere, as well as the associated impacts on wildlife and cultural livelihood as a result of a warming Arctic. While much of this Inuit knowledge was consistent with scientific understanding, some was not, specifically conclusions that Elders made regarding increasing polar bear populations and climate change being linked with the earth further “tilting on its axis”. Across the communities studied, Elders believed that polar bear populations were healthy and increasing in number, indeed to such a degree that the land had become dangerous. Elders in all the communities, without being asked, indicated that the sun, moon and stars were out of position in the sky. Inuit were particularly concerned that the location of the sun’s return, after the long polar night, had shifted large distances across the horizon. This multi-media presentation will show how a transdisciplinary approach – linking participatory filmmaking, academic research, and Indigenous knowledge - unlocked the mystery of how climate change has altered the “visual landscape” of the Arctic while also telling the remarkable and ongoing story of Inuit adaptability and resilience. The conversation will reflect on the ongoing impact of Qapirangajuq ¬¬ - which continues to be screened globally at leading festivals and academic conferences – and the use of digital media to promote the importance of Indigenous knowledge more generally. Mauro will also elaborate on his role, as a non-Indigenous person working on this project, and how his transformation from Thief to Igloo Builder impacted his life, scholarship and ongoing climate change filmmaking across Canada.



Dr. Ian Mauro is an Associate Professor in the Department of Geography at the University of Winnipeg. He is a former Canada Research Chair, renowned filmmaker, and has served on various expert panels related to northern food security and energy. He has completed a trilogy of climate change films across Canada - including Qapirangajuq: Inuit Knowledge and Climate Change; Climate Change in Atlantic Canada; and Beyond Climate – which all focus on local and traditional knowledge. His most recent project called Climate, Cinema and Cartography will merge film and mapmaking to explore climate change in the Canadian Prairies. Mauro’s work has been featured in the Berlin International Film Festival, Smithsonian Institution, National Geographic, Royal Ontario Museum and various film festival and academic conferences worldwide.

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