Why this woman initially declined participating in National Geographic doc — then changed her mind

The Last Ice tells the story of Inuit communities fighting for their way of life as the Arctic Ocean melts more and more.

Film looks at how climate change affects communities across Inuit Nunangat

Maatalii Okalik appears in the National Geographic film documentary The Last Ice, which looks at how climate change is affecting Inuit communities. The film will premiere on Nat Geo TV on Nov. 8 at 8 p.m. ET/PT. (Maatalii Okalik)

When Maatalii Okalik was asked to participate in a National Geographic documentary film about climate change in the Arctic, so that she could share the Inuit youth perspective on the issue, her answer was immediate.

"Absolutely impossible," she said.

Okalik, who was president of Canada's National Inuit Youth Council from 2015 to 2017, told the film's director, Scott Ressler, that if he really wanted the Inuit youth perspective, he'd have to take the time to travel to different parts of Inuit Nunangat, and speak to as many Inuit as possible. 

To her surprise, that's exactly what he did.

Over a span of five years, Okalik said Ressler and the film's crew went to Nunavut four or five times and to Kalaallit Nunaat (Greenland). She said she took Ressler to Utqiaġvik, Alaska, to attend the Inuit Circumpolar Council's 40th General Assembly in 2018, where they talked to a lot of Inuit.

"I believe that it was their stories that helped frame the film. And I'm actually really proud of the outcome and how it has shaped up," she said.

The film, The Last Ice, which will broadcast on Nat Geo TV on Nov. 8 at 8 p.m. ET/PT, follows Okalik and Aleqatsiaq Peary from Qaanaaq, northern Greenland, and looks at how climate change is affecting the 100,000 Inuit who live in communities across Inuit Nunangat, which spans Greenland, Canada, Alaska and Russia.

The importance of Pikialasorsuaq

Okalik, who is originally from Pangnirtung, Nunavut, said the film ultimately points to Pikialasorsuaq (the North Water Polynya), and the Inuit Circumpolar Council's stated priority of having Inuit co-manage the area with the countries surrounding it in order to protect and conserve it.

"I was hoping that this film would help support that Inuit movement and be well received by … those who have decision-making capacity over the way forward," Okalik said, alluding to the governments of Canada and Denmark.

She said conserving and protecting areas has been done in other parts of the world and she doesn't see why it can't be done here.

"It could be a win-win," she said, "not only for those two nation states and for Inuit, but also the global community, because the more that we're doing to conserve areas of the world, the better impact it has as a collective, because as we know, what happens in the Arctic does not stay in the Arctic."

Studying Arctic governance

Okalik said participating in the film had a big impact on her personally.

During filming, she spent time in Nuuk, Greenland, where she says they are 40 to 50 years ahead of Canadian Inuit regions' infrastructure.

She's now studying for her master's in governance and sustainable management at the University of Greenland.

"I wanted … to understand how they've been able to achieve such levels of self-determination when it comes to infrastructure and so on," she said.

As Okalik continues to pursue her studies, she hopes as many people as possible watch the film.

"[I hope] people take the time to watch and listen with an open mind and open heart and understand who we are and what our hopes are for our future to continue to live on our homeland in a way that makes sense to us," she said.


  • This article was updated from a previous version that mistakenly described Pikialasorsuaq as the Arctic Ocean. In fact, it is the North Water Polynya.
    Nov 09, 2020 5:10 PM CT

Written by Michel Proulx based on an interview by Joanne Stassen