Igloo as Icon: A Human Rights Approach to Climate Change for the Inuit?
Transnational Law and Contemporary Problems, Vol. 18, No. 2, p. 295, 2009
23 Pages Posted: 30 Nov 2011 Last revised: 19 Oct 2014
Date Written: April 23, 2009
Global climate change has triggered a period of great instability in the Arctic. Indigenous communities are experiencing rapid social and cultural transformation: changes in the physical landscape are contributing to the relentless pressures on their traditional ways of life, which, in large part, are dependent on the persistence of snow and ice.
This paper is an exploration of what a 'human rights approach' to climate change can offer Inuit communities. It analyzes the potential contribution of the human right to housing, which recognizes that housing must be culturally adequate; that its location must allow access to employment and social facilities; and that certain services, materials, facilities and infrastructure must be available to the dwellers. This right takes on particular significance for the Inuit because of the iconic nature of their traditional homes and building materials and the location and climate specific nature of their ways of life. But can this right be harnessed to respond to the threats climate change poses to the ways of living of the Inuit without appealing to a static, traditional view of indigenous culture, a view that poses its own risks to the survival of their unique identity?
The paper mounts a critical analysis of the prospects and boundaries of the right to housing, so that the human rights strategies - both discursive and legal - that the Inuit are beginning to employ in the face of climate change can be pursued with greater awareness of their implications, and thus with greater prospects for success. Emerging attempts to link climate change with human rights around the globe give the issues addressed in this paper significance for other marginalized communities considering rights strategies in response to climate change, from Alaska to Bangladesh.
Keywords: right to housing, indigenous rights, human rights approach, climate change, cultural rights, aboriginal rights, native rights, identity, culture, cultural survival
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