What the future holds for Pitseolak (Pitse) Pfeifer, a Canadian-Innuit delegate to the United Nations Conference on Environment and Development in Rio de Janeiro, may indicate what kinds of bridges can be built between indigenous peoples, both North and South, and their nonnative neighbors.
Mr. Pfeifer was adopted at age 1 by a Lithuanian immigrant and his Innuit wife. Having grown up in the 3,000-person town of Iqaluit in Canada's Northwest Territories, he has just finished a two-year community-college degree.
Law school is Pfeifer's plan for next year, to help with "the self-defense and equal and fair representation of my people," he says. "It's very important for [me] to use what white society has, such as law, and be able to work within that system effectively."
The "transition of the old world to the modern world" is what concerned the young Innuit in his meetings with other native people, he says, "alcohol and drug abuse and how that is taking away the self-esteem and motivation of young indigenous people, high school dropout and unemployment rates, suicide. I'm trying to express a warning to the Amazon Indians of what they should be looking out for."
Despite the language barrier between himself and the forest Indians, Pfeifer says he felt a link with them, from contacts such as "a firm handshake, or a hug or a nod on the street." He hopes they can take what's useful from Western culture but also "keep their culture alive within their young people."