Polar berries

In arctic regions of Canada, Alaska and Greenland, berries are not only an essential food source for Inuit indigenous communities, but also relevant at the cultural, spiritual and social levels. The domestication of berry species like blueberry (Vaccinium uliginosum) or raspberry (Rubus arcticus and Rubus idaeus), has greatly impacted socially the Inuit community by allowing their settlement. Berry harvesting and berry picking are important activities contributing for the physical and mental wellbeing of the Inuit community, since berries constitute a tasty food source with nutrients rarely found in any other food sources from those regions.

Unfortunately, the availability and quality of Arctic berries has been dropping due to climate change and pollution from anthropogenic activities such as mining. Berries are an important source of food in times of scarcity, and the geographical distribution of the different berry species is also part of the community knowledge. Due to the warmer temperatures, the competition for the berries between Inuit and wildlife is raising as certain species, such as the Canadian geese, are increasing in numbers.

A recent study published in Human Ecology, shows the importance that berries have for the different Inuit communities and how this natural resource is part of the culture and important for their subsistence. For that reason, efforts are being made to include berry-associated activities in conservation policies and land use planning, as a way of mitigating climate change and anthropogenic impacts on the ecosystem, as well as maintaining Inuit culture.

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Source: Boulanger-Lapointe N., Gérin-Lajoie J., Collier L.S., Desrosiers S., Spiech C., Henry G.H.R., Hermanutz L., Lévesque E. and Cuerrier A. (2019) Berry Plants and Berry Picking in Inuit Nunangat: Traditions in a Changing Socio-Ecological Landscape. Human Ecology 47:81-93. doi: 10.1007/s10745-018-0044-5

Author: Ricardo Matias

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