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Environmental Contaminants and the Perception of Risk in Inuit Communities

For Inuit, knowledge is grounded in continual observation and experience (Tyrrell, 2005). Therefore, the scientific culture of indirect perception, through the use of instruments and experimentation, is at odds with the Inuit culture of direct perception and individual lived experience. The Inuit tend to regard the world in all its dimensions as an unstable and dangerously problematic place.” Risk, in its original, neutral sense, is a central part of Inuit life. Arviat hunters acknowledge the importance of risk-taking in order to become skillful on land and sea (Tyrrell, 2005). Arviat man said, “If you don’t take risks you won’t learn. You might learn the hard way and die, or you might learn and become knowledgeable. If you are only going to do what is safe, you end up doing nothing” (Tyrrell, 2005:89).

Furgal et al. (2005) indicated that, in general, the approach taken to communicating the risks of environmental contaminants in the food chain to northern Aboriginal communities has been “poor, “ad hoc” and unfocused, leading to “increased fear and confusion in [those] communities, changes in [their] dietary behaviour and traditional lifestyles… and associated impacts on their society, economy, and health,” revealing the need for better “planning and evaluation… and possibly changes to the scale at which communication work is done in northern communities”

Traditional food habits express and reinforce cultural identity, which is without doubt an important ‘non-nutrient-based value’ of food. Indigenous peoples’ food cultures are therefore an integral part of their right to adequate food, to be respected and protected by the state. The state not only has an obligation to respect and fulfil this right, but also an obligation to take positive steps to facilitate and promote traditional food cultures. very difficult balancing act between the risks and benefits of country foods, as their nutritional benefits are substantial, especially compared to southern/market foods, not to mention their social, cultural, spiritual and economic benefits.

There is a doc**entary called village of widows, in it shows a scientist walking around with Geiger counter for radiation and picking up unhealthy levels of radioactivity the next scene is some Inuit harvesting a Caribou from the same spot... It's disturbing to watch, but it is a way of life, to live off the land. Even if the economy was healthy enough for Inuit to not need to live off the land they would still hunt, as it is part of what makes them Inuit.

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