I recently bumped into some old friends who lamented about the changes in their normal winter and spring hunting schedules. This winter – if I may call it that – we experienced fierce winter temperatures, from super subzero to semi-tropical climes. Arrggg…what to wear? Should I look chic or heavy camo? Can I afford not to put on long johns or does it call for fur-lined shorts and jungle khaki? One thing is for sure, when it comes to driving out on the ice covering the bays and rivers, a life jacket is needed, for you, your passenger and perhaps even for the pet pooch.

Back in the day, six or seven feet of solid ice was good enough to land a large aircraft – often the only way to get around if your dog team got sick. Stories of near starvation in northern communities relate to the sheer cold and ice conditions, preventing all but the heartiest of souls to venture out in the bay in search of seals and other fat sea creatures. On land, the cold made it good for fur-bearing animals, but only when they were plentiful was it worthwhile to risk life and family for the meagre profit then offered to the Cree trapper.

Ice was probably the most important hard element in the world of the Cree and Inuit, and much could be made with it. Homes, shelters, water, transportation and other services that are taken for granted in the South year round, could only be possible with the thickness of the ice. If it weren’t for ice and all that it offered to us as First Nations people and Inuit, the North would not be what it is today. Ice even helped with national defence, making it harder for nuclear-powered Soviet  (and American) subs to surface in order to get some fresh air and possibly a hockey game or two.

Today, the ice is now a major concern for nearly everyone who depends on this stable element of crystallized water. For example, the polar bear, whose very evolution is based on northern conditions, survives by the harvesting of seals that bask on the ice during the spring months. The seals, that lolled around for days on end on floating floes of ice, would be killed while they slept, feeding the fat polar bear. Now, the ice is disappearing at an alarming rate, and those baby seals that need that very ice to stay afloat, now drown and wash up on the shores of the bays of northern Quebec. Leaving the poor polar bear with nothing to eat. I say, keep the annual seal hunt alive and send the carcasses to the polar bear, thereby saving an industry and a way of life.

For human activities, the ice roads that kept large trucks packed with annual supplies that would keep the construction industry alive, now have a very short window of opportunity to deliver those valued goods. Closer to home, the Rupert River is now a fragile environment, with the ice eroding from underneath and creating chaos for those hunters who need to get from the camp to the goose ponds.

Now that ice is becoming weaker and thinner, what would normally be a safe trek is now fraught with danger. Back in the day, a canoe would be strapped on top of a sled, just in case. I think that someone should come up with a design for today – a sled that floats and can have a motor attached to the back to propel it through ice-clogged rivers and creeks and painted either white or camo, or both. Even better, the canoe (or any water craft) could be a self-propelled blind that you could hitch behind a snowmobile.

Whatever the ice scenario may be today, we know that it is changing our lives already.