Research as reconciliation

Sharing a reflection prepared for McMaster Faculty of Science, as an invited feature for the National Day of Truth and Reconciliation

September 30, 2022

For many Canadians, academic research is considered to involve progressive and innovative thinking. For many Inuit, the Indigenous peoples of the Canadian Arctic, research has been an extension of colonial policies that have disrupted, exploited, and misrepresented their ways of knowing. However, Inuit have also used research as a means to mobilize their knowledge and assert their rights, such as in the settlement of land claims across Inuit Nunangat (Inuit homelands). Despite the conflicted history of research, Inuit recognize that research can be a valuable tool to address challenges and inequities associated with the unprecedented rate of ecological and social change experienced in the Arctic. 

The StraightUpNorth (SUN) team is an interdisciplinary research group working to address northern community priorities.  We primarily work with Inuit community members and organizations across Inuit Nunangat, along with diverse academic and government collaborators. We explore how community-engaged research can contribute to northern sustainability in the broadest sense of cultural vitality, ecological health, and self-determination. Our team of northern and southern researchers works together throughout all stages of a project to ensure project outcomes are representative of the knowledge shared and accountable to the intentions of our partners. 

According to Inuit principles, knowledge is only knowledge when it is applied (knowledge to action). This motivates our team to work with partners across generations and cultures, with the goal of improving research engagement, capacity, and outcomes in Inuit homelands.

Working towards reconciliation involves concerted efforts to decolonize ourselves, and the way scientific research has and continues to represent Inuit knowledge and experiences. How we undertake research with Inuit communities can contribute to the path towards reconciliation, if projects are:

  • Grounded in Inuit knowledge and values;
  • Addressing northern priorities;
  • Following community guidance;
  • Working in partnership with northern organizations and researchers;
  • Enhancing northern research capacity; and,
  • Addressing institutional barriers to Inuit self-determination in research.

The realization of this approach is determined by our partners and can look different depending on our partners’ priorities. For example, we co-lead an ArcticNet-funded project with the Aqqiumavvik Society in Arviat, Nunavut called “Understanding Inuit uses and needs for weather, water, ice and climate information and services in Nunavut”. This project was motivated by concerns we heard through various long-term partnerships that weather, water, ice, and climate (WWIC) information and services are not meeting the needs of Nunavummiut (people of Nunavut). Connecting community-based monitoring and locally led research efforts underway by the Aqqiumavvik Society, SmartICE, the Arctic Eider Society, and Ittaq Heritage and Research Centre, our goal is to support travel safety on the land, water, and ice by improving the kinds of information that are available and how they are communicated in Inuit communities. We follow the Aajiiqatigiingniq research methodology for consensus-building and decision-making in all aspects of the project. We collaboratively developed a survey to understand what kinds of WWIC information community members use to make safe travel decisions.  Surveys were facilitated by 18 Local Research Coordinators in their home communities of: Arviat, Cambridge Bay, Clyde River, Coral Harbour, Gjoa Haven, Iqaluit, Pond Inlet, and Sanikiluaq. Collaborative analysis is underway for the 336 survey responses received. Ultimately, we hope that results of this project will help service providers and decision-makers make their information more relevant and accurate for Inuit and northerners, in support of safe travel.

As emphasized in the National Inuit Strategy on Research, “in this time of reconciliation, research governance bodies, policies, and practices must be transformed to respect Inuit self-determination in Inuit Nunangat research”.  Universities can contribute to institutional reconciliation by continuing to acknowledge – and working to address – the dark legacy of research in the North. Reconciliation also comes through individual actions in the way research is conducted, by prioritizing relationships, listening, and learning to do things differently. We continue to learn how to be better allies and researchers for the communities we are motivated to support, inspired by the openness and wisdom that Inuit community members and leaders continue to share for the common good. 

Learn more about our current and ongoing efforts to put reconciliation into practice…

Sea ice safety (Pond Inlet, NU)
Caribou sea ice crossings (Gjoa Haven, NU)
Inuit-led conservation (Sanikiluaq, NU)
Decolonizing Ontario Parks (Mnidoo Gamii region, Georgian Bay)
Northern research policy (pan-territorial, and Inuit Nunangat)

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