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Science & Environment

Climate Change In Canada's Yukon

SCOTT SIMON, HOST:

Canada's Yukon territory is warming at well over twice the global rate. This is especially a concern for many Indigenous people. Paul Josie lives in Old Crow, a remote community of just about 300 people above the Arctic Circle. He is a member of the Vuntut Gwitchin First Nation people, and he joins us now.

Mr. Josie, thanks so much for being with us.

PAUL JOSIE: Oh, it's pleasure.

SIMON: You recently contributed a piece to Vice in which you talked about how the Vuntut Gwitchin are being challenged by the warming all around you. And you mentioned, in particular, caribou migration.

JOSIE: So what we always known is that the caribou cross the Porcupine River, which is where they got their name, the Porcupine caribou herd. What they would normally do in this time would be travel south. But what we've been noticing in the last little while is that they've been coming to Crow Flats and Little Flats, which is just above north of Old Crow. And then they move west over to Alaska. And they've been wintering in Alaska.

SIMON: Now, wolves would ordinarily help themselves to a lot of those caribou, wouldn't they?

JOSIE: Yeah, they depend on the caribou going through so their next generation would survive. So what we've been seeing lately is when the caribou don't come, the wolves are putting a strain on the moose population in those areas. And if they're not getting the moose, they are coming closer into town because they're searching for food. They're getting hungry.

SIMON: I understand that holes are starting to form in some of the lakes, which are usually frozen.

JOSIE: Because of the melting permafrost, a lot of that organic matter underneath the lake beds are melting and thawing and creating them and releasing methane. Methane bubbles up onto the bottom of the ice, and it actually warms the ice faster. So it's very dangerous if you're traveling and you're not sure what you're looking for.

SIMON: Yeah.

JOSIE: And so it really changed the way that we travel out on the land.

SIMON: Yeah, 'cause you can't be certain if it's solid or not.

JOSIE: Yes.

SIMON: Mr. Josie, do you ever think of moving?

JOSIE: Growing up in this community since I was a baby, this is my home. It's where I learned to live out on the land. It's where I harvest my food. It's where I live. I love this country. And at times like when you go to high school and you got to go to school, you leave the community. And when you're young, you like to experience and travel new things, but you always have that sense of home that you want to be back to. You want to be back. You want to be on the river. You want to be out on the land. I don't see myself wanting to move. This is my community, and I'm going to raise my family here.

SIMON: You have a young daughter, I am told.

JOSIE: Yeah, her name is Tl'yah Tr'an Elizabeth Edith Josie (ph). She is 18 months.

SIMON: You going to change what you tell her - is that going to be different from what your parents and grandparents told you?

JOSIE: I'm going to tell her about how, like, even now, I see myself telling the youth about how it was when the caribou used to cross in large herds. And I'm still going to be taking her out and talking about these things. We're in an age now where things are changing so fast that the way that we used to travel on the land is different. So we are learning how to adapt to this changing environment, and we are teaching what we are learning right now to the next generation.

SIMON: Paul Josie of Old Crow in Canada's Yukon territory, thanks so much for being with us, sir.

JOSIE: No problem, (foreign language spoken).

SIMON: This is NPR News. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.