25/11/2011 04:44 GMT | Updated 25/11/2011 14:11 GMT

Global Warming Threatens Inuit Ancient Traditions In Greenland

Traditional ways of life in polar regions may disappear within 25 years, according to an academic who spent a year living in one of the world's most remote regions.

During his 12-month stay in Greenland with the Inugguit tribe, a branch of the Inuit people, Stephen Leonard witnessed at first-hand the decline of one of the last hunter-gatherer communities in the Polar North.

The Cambridge University anthropological linguist said the dual threats of global warming and consumerism have already begun to dilute the language and culture of the 770-strong tribe.

Dr Leonard said: "The Inugguit way of life centres upon the sea ice, which is rapidly disappearing. Traditionally they would be able to hunt on the ice from September to July but, when I was there, the ice did not appear until December.

"The movements of the sea mammals which they traditionally rely upon for their livelihoods have become less predictable. Some are replacing hunting with fishing, but this has never been part of their culture.

"Some of the younger people are extremely angry that their way of life is being threatened by a problem they did not cause. The elders accept it as part of a natural cycle and do not accept it is a consequence of man-made global warming. It is my view that within 25 years this way of life could cease to exist completely."

The Inugguit speak a unique language based on sighs and groans in which words can be up to 50 letters long. They have lived as hunter-gatherers in Greenland's remote Thule region for centuries, hunting seals and narwhals with harpoons.

Dr Leonard's aim was to study and record as much as he could of their oral culture - stories, myths, songs and folklore which have only ever existed in Inuktun.

His fear is that if the Inugguit leave their homeland in search of better employment prospects in south-west Greenland, both the language and the cultural heritage will, within a few generations, disappear.