Maatalii Okalik

Eternal survivor  

When Maatalii Okalik felt her Inuit culture, history and way of life slipping away, she decided to start actively defending them. ‘We’ve been here before and we’ll get there again.’ 

 

As an Inuit rights activist, Maatalii Okalik’s goal is ‘to ensure that Inuit live the same quality of life as fellow Canadians’. The Inuit, indigenous people living in the Arctic regions of Canada, Greenland and Alaska, have long been discriminated and marginalized. Starting in the 1920s, they were colonised and forcibly replaced thousands of miles from their home. Many children were placed in remote schools to become ‘civilised’. In Canada the issue of ‘native rights’ has seen some progress in recent decades, although agonizingly slow. And now there is a whole new danger: the melting ice. 

 

As portrayed in the documentary The Last Ice, Maatalii Okalik is one of the young Inuit who go back to where their roots lie at a time when these roots are in existential danger. This visually stunning film deals with the way the melting ice caps are threatening the more than 100.000 Inuit who depend on the ice as their hunting grounds. The prospect of the sea ice between Canada and Greenland becoming open water – estimated by 2040 – has unleashed a gold rush for the global business world, looking to exploit it for shipping, oil extraction and tourism. 

 

In this environmental and economic turmoil, the Inuit are in danger of being trampled underfoot. ‘Our human rights as a people and the protection of our wildlife and environment go hand in hand,’ Maatalii says. In recent years, food prizes in her part of Canada have risen sharply. Many young Inuit are depressed and suicide rates are high. ‘There are a number of social inequities that we face on a daily basis,’ Okalik said in an interview. ‘Whether it be education, housing, food insecurity, cultural access [...] or access to equitable and quality health care. We’re in the deficit in all of those areas.’  

 

Still, Maatalii Okalik keeps a positive outlook at the future of her people. Like she says in The Last Ice, when she beautifully recounts a dream in which she was visited by her ancestors: ‘We’ve been here before and we’ll get there again,’ her ancestors showed her. ‘I can really get through anything because of what I’ve been taught by their survival.’ 

The Last Ice is shown as a preview at the Movies that Matter Festival 2020, where Maatalii Okalik will be present as a special guest.