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People and Plants [SSHRC]


The shared stories of people and plants: Cultural and ecological relationships between Inuit and plants in Makkovik, Nunatsiavut (Labrador) (2013 - 2015)

    Plants are often characterized by external observers and researchers as being of little importance to Inuit. In the Inuit community of Makkovik, Nunatsiavut (Labrador), Makkovimmiut (residents of Makkovik) have a very different perspective on the importance of plants. Makkovimmiut describe the rich tapestry of cultural plant practices that are unique to one of the southernmost Inuit communities in the world. Here, plant traditions draw on regionally-specific cultural and ecological contexts, including a boreal flora unavailable in other northern Inuit communities. In Makkovik, Inuit-plant relationships are active and reciprocal. The practice of these relationships is a key feature of regional cultural identity, and is evident in everyday life. Community members emphasize the tremendous importance of plants and plant knowledge in supporting holistic conceptions of well-being, strengthening connections to the land, and promoting community traditions of sharing and reciprocity. Nevertheless, residents express concern about the lack of documentation of Inuit plant knowledge in Makkovik, a declining overall repertoire of wild and culturally-significant domesticated plant knowledge with the passing of Elders, and consequent implications for local culture, well-being, knowledge-sharing, and food security.

Relationships are at the heart of this research. Understanding these relationships—the shared stories of people and plants—requires methodologies that reflect the centrality of relationships in Indigenous cultures, and acknowledge the extended web of connections inherent in these relationships. This extends beyond Inuit-plant relationships to include all aspects of the research relationship, including the role of the researcher. Working within an Indigenous research paradigm necessitates prioritizing relational accountability. We are committed to building a strong research relationship with the community of Makkovik, and with other regional Inuit organizations, as a critical preliminary stage of this research. In 2012, with the guidance of local research officers, initial community visits to Makkovik were undertaken to understand community priorities for research on the topic of people-plant relationships. Community members identified specific objectives and outcomes for research, and these priorities drive our current project objectives, which are to:

i) understand and characterize reciprocal Inuit-plant relationships;

ii) support the realization of specific, community-identified priority research outcomes; and,

iii) develop long-term collaborative research relationships between visiting researchers and the community of Makkovik.

In supporting local research priorities and outcomes in Makkovik, this project advances a more holistic understanding of the importance Inuit-plant relationships, and the ways in which these relationships nourish multidimensional concepts of individual, community and cultural vitality, especially in the context of cultural and ecological change. A better understanding of the reciprocal relationships between Inuit and plants is critical in exploring how the well-being of ecological and cultural systems are deeply intertwined. This project is of great potential benefit in facilitating cultural and intergenerational knowledge programming in Inuit communities, promoting local and sustainable solutions for food security and community enterprise, and in guiding regional decision-makers in implementing holistic well-being and conservation programs. This research also supports academic researchers in our efforts to develop more culturally-sensitive research relationships with Indigenous communities, and to more effectively represent a holistic view of people-plant relationships in an Inuit context.

Gita Ljubicic is the Principal Investigator, but Erica Oberndorfer is the primary coordinator and facilitator of collaborations and field research in Makkovik, as part of her doctoral dissertation research. 

Additional important project collaborators, advisors, and/or supporters include:

Carol Gear (Makkovik Community Liaison Officer, Nunatsiavut Government)

Makkovik Inuit Community Government

Jeremy Lundholm (Biology Dept, Saint Mary’s University):

Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council (SSHRC) - Insight Development Grant

Visit the Project Facebook Page: Makkovik - People and Plants

View Overview of Erica’s PhD research