Melting the Ice in the Hearts of Men
In my Inuit culture we believe that of all the things that can be created the only one that will disappear before your eyes is smoke. And as the smoke comes to you it has the power to carry away with it any bad things you have in you—bad thoughts, bad things we see, bad things we hear, bad things we say, bad things we feel, and bad things we smell. The smoke carries all of that away from us. And when the smoke clears, you and I can be as we were as children. You think of things that only you know and the Great One knows, and you pray that they will be removed from you.
I’ve been in training to be a shaman for almost 60 years, and after many years of promptings by the family, I agreed to do a ceremony that hadn’t been done since 1821. That’s when our great-great-grandfather as a young man was asked to go up the mountain and do the ceremony, and come down to accept a gift. If he opened the gift he accepted the responsibility of being a shaman, an Angakkog. After a long, long time, I contemplated and contemplated; then I went up the mountain, in September 2007, almost 60 years after I began training. And when I came down they gave me my medicine bundle. When I opened it, I became an Angakkok, the highest title we can ever bestow upon a human being, and I took responsibility for nature. The bundle has a caribou hoof and the tusk of a narwhal. It means I can step anywhere and I will have the wealth of the land and the wisdom of the ocean, and everything I want will come to me.
That’s what I carry as a medicine man.
I come from the largest land area of any tribe on Earth, a land of 10 million square miles. From east to west it covers 13 time zones. There are a quarter of a million of us, but only one language. We understand each other from the east to the west, from the north to the south.
The most important thing happening there now is global warming. When I was born 60 years ago the ice was 3.5 miles thick, on average. Now, 60 years later, it’s 1.5 miles. In just 60 years. In August, I took leaders from the Hopi and the Onandaga nations up to Greenland. They don’t quite believe that the ice is melting, so I thought that I would take them up there and show them. I got one of my nephews to drive us from the airport to the ice cap, and when we got up there, driving up the hill, we stopped. I said, “Son, what happened?” And he said, “Uncle, I can’t go on.” We went out of the car and we stood there on the sand bar and looked 45 feet down to the ice. They said, “What happened?” and I said, “Oh, she went away.”
On that particular beach, the big ice cap sank 45 feet. And just north of us, it receded 30 miles, all in that 12 months.
You hear that the ice is melting, but it’s actually happening a hundred times more than you think. I really want you to pay attention to what I say. I’m not here to shock you. I’m not here to shake you. I’m here to tell you the seriousness of the matter. In 1963 we had a big ice wall that was mile tall, a piece of the ice cap. Two young men were hunting in winter, in January. They got to the ice cap, put down their medicines on the ground, and took some ice. That’s how people respect the wall of ice a mile thick. They looked up, and 2,500 feet above there was water coming out: trickling water. That was in 1963. And they were thinking, “That’s strange,” because that day it was -40 degrees. But the water was trickling out. Today, that now is a huge, huge hole with water coming out 24 hours a day, 365 days a year. In 1963, when these young men came to the village, they told us about this phenomenon happening, water coming out of the ice. The village didn’t believe them, but they insisted. So in the month of March in 1963, people went to the ice cap to see for themselves, and lo and behold, it was true. At minus 40, water was trickling out. Today, it’s a big river. That water has been frozen for the last 20,000 years. That means somewhere on the ocean, water is rising. That means that sooner or later Manhattan will be underwater, along with London, Hamburg, Copenhagen, Stockholm, Helsinki, St. Petersburg, Washington D.C., Philadelphia, and Boston. No longer does man take responsibility only for his own zone. We are all affected. They say the Earth is but one country and mankind are citizens.
Sixty years ago my mother, who was a gorgeous being, gave birth to eight beautiful children. Twenty years ago she told us that 400 million people will lose their homes when the ice is gone. My mother came from a tiny village of three houses and twenty people. My mother never went to school, so how would she know how to count? So I asked, “How do you get to that number?” She said, “Don’t ask such a specific question, just be aware that 400 million people will lose their homes.” In 2007 the scientists meeting for the U.N. Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change in Brussels projected that 575 million people will lose their homes from climate change. My mother, who never went to school, estimated 400 million people losing their homes. She was just a little off.
In 1978, the United Nations met to talk about the melting of the ice. There were lots and lots of people. I was in a brown three-piece business suit, and I had a briefcase. There was nothing in it, but I looked very smart. I went in there, put the briefcase down, and I gave a talk about the melting of the ice. And they all stood up and applauded me for more than 10 minutes. My ego was so big and so powerful: I was becoming a well-spoken young Eskimo.
I went home, and my mother and father invited the elders so I could tell them where I’d been and what I’d done and who I’d seen. They were all sitting there all looking at me, and I said, “I gave a talk at this big world government.”
“How can a world have a government?” they asked. “How can man govern the world?” Then I said, “They stood up and applauded me for 10 minutes.” My father, who was sitting next to me, said, “But did they hear you?” I said, “Dad, they gave me a standing ovation!” And he said, “But did they hear you?” Then I realized that he was asking me if they understood the message. And I have to say no. I’ve been doing this for many, many years. In 2000 I had a big U.N. meeting with all the spiritual and religious leaders of the world. I gave a talk about the melting of the ice, and we made the front page, but no one changed.
I came to my mother and said, “No one is changing. What am I doing wrong? I can’t keep on talking to people who don’t move.” She said, “Son, you’re going to have to melt the ice in the heart of man, because only then will he be able to change and start using his knowledge wisely.” In 1980 I took my mother and father to a powwow in Chicago, and my dad knelt down to pick up the water in Lake Michigan. He smelled it, put his tongue to it, and dropped it. He turned around to my mother, and he said, “Grandma, do not drink the water.” What do you think she did? She bent down, picked up the water and smelled it, put her tongue to it, and dropped it. And I thought, “These women, they don’t listen to the man.” Before she died, she reminded me of this incident. She said, “The people of Chicago claim to be very highly civilized and educated people, but if they used their knowledge wisely, they would have cleaned up the water.” In 1980, my mother and father couldn’t drink the water in Chicago. Today, you still cannot drink the water in Lake Michigan. I wonder what they are using their education for.
I was in New York City once. I was having a picnic and wanted to swim in the Hudson River. It was very hot, and I wanted to be in some refreshing water. I was all ready to jump into the water and they said, “No, you’re going to die.” And I said, “What do you mean?” “It’s polluted,” they said. The people in Manhattan claim to be the most highly educated people in the United States of America. That’s their claim. And I wonder, what have they done with their education that they have not cleaned up their water?
So what should we do? Begin melting the ice in the heart of man and using our knowledge wisely.
Angaangaq is an Eskimo-Kalaallit elder from Kalaallit-Nunaat, Greenland. He has traveled to more than 40 countries to share his cultural traditions, and is an elder of the Canadian-based Four Worlds International Institute for Human and Community Development, the American Indian Institute Traditional Circle of Indian Elders and Youth, the World Council of Elders, and the World Commission on Global Consciousness and Spirituality, among many other institutions. This article was adapted from a talk he gave at the Ringing Rocks Foundation in 2007. For more information, go to Angaangaq’s website at www.icewisdom.com.