Caribou and Community Well-Being

Photo: Sean Robertson

Connecting Inuit Elders and Youth: Learning about caribou, community, and well-being 

2011 – 2016

Funded by: SSHRC Standard Grant

Photos: Gita Ljubicic, Sean Robertson

Caribou are the lifeline of the land in most Inuit communities, and have been central to the seasonal hunting, survival, and culture of Inuit families for generations.  In research planning meetings in Gjoa Haven in 2010, caribou health and implications for local diets, livelihoods, and cultural practices were identified as local priorities.  Elders wanted to share their knowledge and oral histories with Inuit youth, and they emphasized the importance of learning on the land as the best way to do this.  The goal of this research project was to learn about the connections between caribou, community, and well-being in Gjoa Haven.

From 2011 – 2016 we worked together to address the local priorities identified in planning workshops.  In learning about caribou around King William Island, we also wanted to explore the value of Elder-youth land camps as a way of sharing knowledge between generations.  We were also interested in learning how these camps can inform more Inuit-specific approaches to research.  In working closely with Simon Okpakok and many community members, we tried to work within Indigenous research principles of respect and two-way sharing, and with a focus on relationships.  We also drew upon the teachings of the Qaggiq model developed by Janet Tamalik McGrath in collaboration with Aupilaarjuk (an Inuk Elder from Rankin Inlet), as a more Inuit-centred approach.  The four pillars of the Qaggiq model include: land, language, culture and living histories.  We emphasized these pillars in all aspects of the project.

Guided by Simon and a local land camp planning committee, we organized land camps for three summers (August 2011, 2012 and 2013).  Each year the camps were a little different, but they ranged from 4 – 9 days long, and involved 15 – 30 people.  The first year was a shorter smaller pilot camp, held at Quuqa on King William Island.  The next two years were a bit bigger and lasted longer, and were held at Tikiranajuk (two different places) on Adelaide Peninsula. To complement the learning at the camps, we also conducted 39 interviews (2012 – 2013), participatory mapping (as part of interviews), and 5 verification workshops (2013 & 2016). 

What we learned through this project is summarized in the reports and publications below, and focused on three main topics: 1) working together; 2) Inuit knowledge of caribou on King William Island; and, 3) community well-being.

This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivatives 4.0 International License. You can freely download and share all documents posted for non-commercial uses, as long as the authors are credited. Photos cannot be used for any other purposes, without permission from the photographer.

Copies of the documents below, as well as interview, workshop, and land camp recordings, are available in Gjoa Haven at the Nattilik Heritage Centre for local access and use.

Maps and Posters



Ljubicic, G., Mearns, R., Okpakok, S., and Robertson, S. 2022. Nunami iliharniq (Learning from the land): Reflecting on relational accountability in land-based learning and cross-cultural research in Uqsuqtuuq (Gjoa Haven, Nunavut). Arctic Science, 8(1): 252-291. (

Robertson, S., Okpakok, S., and Ljubicic, G. 2020. Territorializing piquhiit in Uqsuqtuuq (Gjoa Haven, Nunavut, Canada): negotiating homeland through an Inuit normative system. Territory, Politics, Governance, online. (

Robertson, S., and Ljubicic, G. 2019. Nunamii’luni quvianqtuq (It is a happy moment to be on the land): Feelings, freedom and the spatial political ontology of well-being in Gjoa Haven and Tikiranajuk, Nunavut. Environment and Planning D: Society and Space, 37, 3: 542-560. (

Ljubicic, G., Okpakok, S., Robertson, S., and Mearns, R. 2018a. Uqsuqtuurmiut inuita tuktumi qaujimaningit (Inuit knowledge of caribou from Gjoa Haven, Nunavut): Collaborative research contributions to co-management efforts. Polar Record, 54, 3: 213-233. (

Ljubicic, G. J., Okpakok, S., Robertson, S., and Mearns, R. 2018b. Inuit approaches to naming and distinguishing caribou: Considering language, place, and homeland toward improved co-management. Arctic, 71, 3: 309-333. (

Ljubicic, G., Oberndorfer, E., and Smith, G. 2017. The Curious Case of King William Island, Nunavut: An Island Overlooked in Caribou ResearchInfoNorth essay in Arctic, 70, 1: 107-117. (


Mearns, R. [MA thesis, 2017] Nunavut, Uqausivut, Piqqusivullu Najuqsittiarlavu (Caring for our Land, Language and Culture): The use of land camps in Inuit knowledge renewal and research. (Carleton University). (



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