Arctic Corridors and Northern Voices Research Project

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    Northern and southern-based team members pre-test research questions in Pond Inlet, Nunavut. Courtesy of Environment, Society & Policy Group, uOttawa

    Mapping culturally significant marine areas

    With climate change making it easier for ships to navigate Canada’s Arctic, shipping traffic has more than doubled in the past 30 years in the area. But as this growth continues, how will this increase affect the communities and the wildlife living in these regions? Inuit have lived in the Canadian Arctic region known as Inuit Nunangat for thousands of years. They have established deep relationships with the land, water and sea ice, relying on harvesting country food from the ocean and coastal areas to feed their families and communities. The increasing ship traffic through these regions is changing how these communities and wildlife live.

    To address these concerns, the Canadian Coast Guard, Transport Canada, and Canadian Hydrographic Service are developing “Low Impact Shipping Corridors” to encourage ships to use these lower-risk corridors to minimize potential impacts. To support these efforts, we established the Arctic Corridors and Northern Voices (ACNV) research project with our partners, with the goals of using scientific and Inuit knowledge to map culturally significant marine areas and local concerns, and to make recommendations for managing and governing ships through corridors. 

    In May 2021, the ACNV project received the Governor General’s Innovation Award, celebrating a number of key innovative aspects to the project’s approach. The ACNV research project represents a collaborative approach involving southern-based university researchers, regional and national decision makers, and northern-based Inuit and northern community members at all stages of the research project. This project also promoted a community-based approach, where local Inuit and Northern youth were trained as community research associates who recruited expert knowledge holders in their communities to participate in the data collection activities and co-facilitated the community mapping workshops and interviews. In addition to capacity-building, this approach also involved co-learning experiences where northern and southern knowledge and skills could be exchanged. 

    Community research associates and southern-based team members during a workshop in Cambridge Bay, Nunavut. Courtesy of Environment, Society & Policy Group, uOttawa

    This innovative approach responds to a larger transformation in thinking about how research in Inuit Nunangat should be done. In the National Inuit Strategy on Research launched in 2018, Inuit Tapiriit Kanatami (ITK) called for a shift away from colonial approaches in research, in favour of supporting research that respects Inuit self-determination in Inuit Nunangat research. 

    This requires, among other things, research institutions to partner with Inuit to align research with Inuit priorities and to build the capacity of Inuit to conduct research, all while using ethical conduct in research. Inuit must be actively involved in decision-making processes that affect them, their communities, and their region. 

    In recognition of this need for a new approach to research, the ACNV was carefully designed to incorporate these concepts into all aspects of the project. At its initial stage, the project’s aim, objectives, and plans were co-created through a workshop involving Inuit rights holders, academics, government, non-governmental and Inuit organization representatives and industry stakeholders, held at the 2015 ArcticNet Annual Scientific Meeting. This collaborative process ensured that the project would take an approach that was locally relevant and based on agreed principles from the beginning. 

    Fourteen communities across Inuit Nunangat participated in the ACNV project: Aklavik, Inuvik, Paulatuk, Sachs Harbour, Tuktoyaktuk, Ulukhaktok, Arviat, Iqaluktuuttiaq (Cambridge Bay), Salliq (Coral Harbour), Uqsuqtuuq (Gjoa Haven), Iqaluit, Mittimatalik (Pond Inlet), Qausuittuq (Resolute) and Salluit. We worked with community-based organizations such as Hunters’ and Trappers’ Associations, hamlet councils, village offices, community corporations, the Ikaarvik Barriers: Bridges Program, and Arviani Aqqiumavvik Society. Through ongoing communication with these community-based project partners, we were able to discuss how this research should be done. 

    As recommended by our project partners, the project included the development of local research capacity, by training local youth in each community to co-facilitate the data collection as paid community research associates. Three-day long co-learning and mapping training workshops were held in each community. But this was not a conventional one-way approach to skills training. Instead, the idea was to allow southern-based (visiting) team members, community partners, and community research associates to learn from each other. Community research associates provided guidance to southern-based team members on how to phrase our questions for research participants, noting, for example, how these questions would translate in Inuktut. As part of the co-learning exchange, southern-based team members provided community research associates with training in mapping and note-taking to be used in the data collection phase. 

    Dr. Jackie Dawson in Beechey Island, Nunavut. Courtesy of Environment, Society & Policy Group, uOttawa

    Working with community research associates not only helped contribute to building Inuit and northern research capacity, but it also produced better results for the project itself. After all, community research associates were intimately familiar with their own communities and were best placed to identify research participants to be recruited for the data collection and to provide direction on how to conduct the data collection. 

    The data collection involved community mapping workshops and interviews in English and Inuktut, co-facilitated by community research associates and southern-based team members working together. During the community mapping workshops, research participants from the community were provided with base maps as prompts to identify and discuss significant features such as travel routes and animal migration routes as well as culturally significant areas where community members harvest, travel, and camp. Interviews were also held with individuals who were not able to attend the community mapping workshop. Throughout this process, we used feedback from project partners and our observations after each community visit to consider how to improve the next visit. 

    We then created draft summary reports with key findings and digitized maps for each community and shared them with community members for their comments and corrections. This verification phase also involved holding meetings in the communities where we could share the results more broadly in the community and get more input on the maps. We used the feedback we received in the final community reports. 

    Through this process, we were able to work with the communities to map culturally significant marine areas for each season — places where community members fish, hunt, travel and harvest. Communities identified the impacts and risks of shipping traffic. While shipping is important for bringing resources to the communities where there are no roads leading in or out, there are also concerns that increased shipping and ship noise are disturbing marine animals, affecting communities’ food security. When ships disturb the sea ice, this can delay ice freeze-up, which can make it dangerous for residents to travel. Communities were also worried about oil spills and other contaminants that marine vessels may put into the water. From these concerns, the communities identified recommendations on what corridors were preferred, what areas should be avoided, how vessel operations should be modified, where more charting is required, and what restrictions on shipping should be made, such as speed limits and seasonal no anchoring zones. 

    Community-based collaborative knowledge co-production doesn’t just mean working with partners before and during the research. It is important to ensure communities also benefit from the research after the research phase. We shared final community reports with each of the communities, including the community research associates and community partners who were involved. We also hosted a project results workshop in Iqaluit, where we shared and discussed the results with representatives from the Government of Nunavut, Nunavut Tunngavik Incorporated, community research associates, and academic researchers. We also shared the recommendations for managing the Low Impact Shipping Corridors with the relevant Government of Canada agencies directly. Written reports and maps from this project are available publicly at www.arcticcorridors.ca

    Throughout all this, the experts who shared their knowledge (Inuit organizations, knowledge holders, communities, etc.) maintained the ownership of their data. After all, it is their cultural knowledge. This is in line with the principles outlined in ITK’s National Inuit Strategy on Research. 

    These collective efforts in the ACNV project have played an important role in ensuring that Inuit knowledge of culturally significant marine areas — and recommendations from communities themselves — are considered in the marine corridors in Canada. We are sincerely grateful for the contributions of the 133 research participants, 59 youth community researchers, and community partners who worked with us. We also thank our funders for their financial support for this project. The recent Governor General’s Innovation Award for the ACNV project was a refreshing recognition of all of our collective hard work towards this project’s success. We hope this will help inspire further thinking about how future research in Inuit Nunangat can be done respectfully, using community-based collaborative knowledge co-production. 

    Submitted by Jackie Dawson, Natalie Ann Carter, and Gloria Song for the Arctic Corridors and Northern Voices research team. 

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