For the past 15 years, Shelley Wright has been working to bridge an information gap — one that exists between the indigenous and non-indigenous experience of climate change. And while Wright is not aboriginal, she has a unique viewpoint that helps reconcile the different ways people affect, and are affected by, Canada’s North.
In her book Our Ice Is Vanishing/Sikuvut Nunguliqtuq: A History of Inuit, Newcomers, and Climate Change, Wright draws on her 10-plus years as the northern director of Iqaluit’s Akitsiraq Law School (she’s now an aboriginal studies professor at Langara College). The book, which examines Inuit tradition versus European ambitions in the Arctic, won the 2015 George Ryga Award for Social Awareness in Literature.
“Reconciliation basically means getting to know people and understand their different stories,” says Wright. “It’s important because we’ve got huge environmental issues such as climate change to deal with. If we don’t learn to work together, we’re not going to solve these problems.”
A major challenge in writing about indigenous experiences is plain ignorance, Wright says. Every group has its own history, language and culture, which, though unique, are related to those of other groups. To learn those stories, it’s crucial to establish trust, which takes time. This kind of patience is useful in her teaching career, where she often develops deep, long-lasting friendships with her aboriginal students.
Wright’s next book will also focus on how aboriginal and non-aboriginal worldviews collide, not just in the Arctic but across North America. “I don’t necessarily have the authority to speak on behalf of indigenous people,” she says, “but I think I know enough that I can explain what nonindigenous people really need to learn.”