People and Plants

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

2013 – 2016

Funded by: SSHRC (Doctoral Scholarship & Insight Development Grant), Nasivvik Centre for Inuit Health and Changing Environments, Northern Scientific Training Program, Canadian Northern Studies Trust

Preliminary research, research priorities and objectives

People and plants live in complex networks of cultural and ecological relationships. In circumpolar regions, plants are important to cultural practices, just as cultural practices shape plant communities. This research responded to research priorities identified by Makkovimiut, residents of the Inuit Community of Makkovik, Nunatsiavut (Labrador, Canada), on people-plant relationships.

Through three preliminary visits to Makkovik in 2012-2013, Erica met with Makkovimiut to better understand research priorities on the topic of people-plant relationships. These discussions generated the two central community research priorities that directed the research:

  • Priority i. Documenting cultural plant knowledge in Makkovik
  • Priority ii. Learning more about the plants of family places

The main research objectives for this work come from these two community research priorities.

Objective 1. To learn about Makkovimiut relationships with plants

This objective responds to the Makkovimiut research priority of documenting cultural plant knowledge in Makkovik. This objective aims to understand the ways that plants and plant communities are important to Makkovimiut on personal, family and community levels. It seeks to learn how cultural plant knowledge is actively practiced, and how cultural values shape views on harvesting and respectful behaviour towards plants.

Objective 2. To learn about the effects of cultural practices on plant communities

This objective responds to the Makkovimiut research priority of learning more about the plants of traditional family places. The details emerged during work on Objective 1, as Makkovimiut plant mentors identified the cultural practices and family places that tell ecological stories. This second objective looks at whether there are detectable differences in species richness and abundance at Inuit built environments, commercial fishing places, and visually undisturbed habitats.

What we learned

Plants support  life and livelihood for Makkovimiut, and sustain cultural practices such as fishing, which reciprocally support plant communities.  Plants are more than objects: plants are present in memory, well-being, and sharing, and have voices of their own. In actively managing — caring for — plants, Makkovimiut nurture the ecological and cultural values that create healthy communities for both people and plants.



Oberndorfer, E., Broomfield, T., Lundholm, J., and Ljubicic, G. 2020. Inuit cultural practices increase local-scale biodiversity and create novel vegetation communities in Nunatsiavut (Labrador, Canada). Biodiversity and Conservation, 29: 1205-1240. (

Oberndorfer, E. 2020. What the Blazes!? A People’s History of Fire in Labrador. Journal of the North Atlantic, 40: 1-16. (

Oberndorfer, E., Winters, N., Gear, C., Ljubicic, G., and Lundholm, J. 2017. Plants in a Sea of Relationships: Networks of Plants and Fishing in Makkovik, Nunatsiavut (Labrador, Canada). Journal of Ethnobiology, 37, 3: 458-477. (


Oberndorfer, E. [PhD thesis, 2016] The shared stories of people and plants: Cultural and ecological relationships between people and plants in Makkovik, Nunatsiavut (Labrador, Canada). (Carleton University). (


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