Scientists have been studying the Arctic for about 200 years now. That may seem like a long time—until we realize that Inuit and their ancestors have been studying the Arctic for hundreds of generations. Theirs is a different kind of knowledge, gained over many generations of direct observation and experience. Inuit traditional knowledge doesn’t just include information about the land, wildlife and environment; it also involves cultural knowledge and values, world-view, life skills and other aspects of northern life. In Inuktitut, this knowledge is called Inuit Qaujimajatuqangit (IQ), and it is as much about a way of being as it is a way of knowing.

When trying to understand the tremendous changes the Arctic is facing, both IQ and science have a lot to offer. Scientists and Inuit communities are beginning to recognize that bringing these two points of view together can achieve more than either one alone. That is the driving force behind several workshops we’re running with youth in our partner Arctic communities this fall. The program is called Ikaarvik: Barriers to Bridges and it brings Northern youth and community members together to explore the strengths of traditional knowledge and scientific research. Thanks to support from the Arctic Inspiration Prize, Polar Knowledge Canada and Tides Canada, we’re looking at how these two ways of knowing can work more effectively together to address environmental concerns in northern communities.

Jennifer Ullulaq, Jamie Ihakkaq and Jasmine Tiktalek examine plankton collected on the Cambridge Bay shoreline.

Jennifer Ullulaq, Jamie Ihakkaq and Jasmine Tiktalek examine plankton collected on the Cambridge Bay shoreline.

We’re working with youth because they are the future leaders in their communities and we want to help them see that young people have the power to influence the world in positive ways. We have had a great time with groups of truly amazing youth in the Nunavut communities of Gjoa Haven, Cambridge Bay and Pond Inlet, and are preparing to head to Kugluktuk, also in Nunavut, in just a few weeks. In December, we are planning to run the same workshop with young Arctic scientists, facilitated by some of this fall’s northern youth. It has been inspiring to see young people become empowered to help their communities address environmental concerns through research based in both IQ and science.

The five-day youth workshops were developed by a group of young mentors from Pond Inlet along with Ikaarvik Northern Coordinator, Shelly Elverum and me, the Ikaarvik project lead. Shelly and I lead the workshops together with Mia Otokiak, a young mentor from Cambridge Bay who participated in the program last year. The north-to-north mentorship is an important aspect of the program and as the only southerner involved in these workshops, it is an honour to be working with such strong northern voices.

Shelly Elverum and Mia Otokiak listen onstage as Gjoa Haven elder Simon Opakok provides his perspective on environmental issues facing his community.

Shelly Elverum and Mia Otokiak listen onstage as Gjoa Haven elder Simon Opakok provides his perspective on environmental issues facing his community.

In our workshops, youth aged 16 to 29 identify many strengths of IQ, including the deep historical knowledge that has been tested over many generations. They also identify the strengths of science, such as its ability to generate knowledge about things that are bigger than we can directly experience, like large scale climate issues.

Next, participants are invited to talk about what they feel are the most pressing environmental concerns facing their communities—everything from the declining number of caribou and muskoxen to garbage and pollution—and discuss ways IQ and science research projects could help to address them. We then present the ideas and issues raised to the broader community at a one-day community workshop. So far, we have gotten great feedback from community leaders, elders and others. The next steps will be to work with the youth and their communities to put some of these ideas into action and develop research projects to study their highest priority environmental concerns. The resulting research will be rooted in both IQ and science that’s directed by the communities to address issues of local concern. And at the heart of it all is a group of bright, enthusiastic young people who have the power and interest to make it happen.

Learn more about our focus on Canada’s Arctic and how you may help here.

Blog post by Eric Solomon, director of Arctic Connections at the Vancouver Aquarium Marine Science Centre.

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