Arctic Peoples, Culture, Resilience and Caribou (ACRC)

Arctic Peoples, Culture, Resilience & Caribou (ACRC)

ACRC was approved as an International Polar Year (IPY) project in 2008, to learn more about the potential effects and responses to declining caribou populations in the Canadian north.  The project is being led by a network of northern Aboriginal organizations including the Arctic Athabaskan Council-AAC, Gwich’in Council International-GCI, Dene Nation, Inuit Tapiriit Kanatami-ITK and the Inuit Circumpolar Council-Canada-ICC.  The academic leads of the project are Dr. Chris Furgal (Trent University) and Dr. Brenda Parlee (University of Alberta).

Northern leaders identified the concept of “community resilience” as a priority research focus to build capacity for Arctic community health and sustainability. The hypothesis guiding the ACRC project is that resilience and adaptive capacity of Arctic communities can be understood by investigating a series of reciprocal community-land (natural resource) relationships that exist across the north. The research question is: How will Arctic Aboriginal communities continue to be resilient and healthy in relation to the social and ecological changes which threaten important human-environment relationships now and in the future?

This project addresses this question through a series of projects taking place in Nunavut, Northwest Territories, Yukon, Nunavik, and Nunatsiavut.  All sub-projects investigate one or more central element of community resilience.  Specifically, we explore the relationship between northern Indigenous peoples and a common valued and threatened resource, caribou.  An International component focuses on exchanging lessons learned among regions dealing with the question of community resilience, health and caribou as well in one other circumpolar country.

The theoretical thread or theme linking all the projects and case studies is resilience and adaptive capacity.  Although resilience has multiple meanings in different disciplines we are interested in individual, household and community resilience to environment change, specifically Barren Ground Caribou population variability and change.  Theoretically, we know that resilience is informed by many socio-economic, cultural and ecological factors.  Among the most well understood are human social networks, traditional knowledge and skills and governance and institutional arrangements. By exploring these variables, as well as other emergent elements of resilience through this series of projects focused on this one common and critical resource for Arctic Communities, we hope to gain a better understanding of social-ecological health in Arctic communities now and into the future.

In 2010-11 the ACRC program focused on a few specific projects in addition to one large northern wide workshop on the topic of caribou decline and community response. Based on previous project ramp up, transitioning from one program to another for some projects that were building on previously funded initiatives and a late funding cycle for the new IPY initiatives, most of the work started in 2009-10 took place in the western Arctic but not all ACRC sub-projects were active until this last fiscal year.  Some community case study research was conducted in the Inuvik region on inter-generational resilience, food security, resilience and community health perspectives, as well as some digital storytelling work and archive research on caribou decline and community resilience in the North. Two Yukon communities participated in a community survey project and a community caribou hunt with community youth, elders and community members.  Dene Nation completed two IPY projects throughout the year where information was collected and recorded by Dene Nation Staff, elders and harvesters. Historical data was contributed by experienced traditional wildlife managers (members of Dene Nation along with other government organizations) through storytelling and archival documents.  These members included retired wildlife management officers, elders, leaders & youth who participated throughout the year in the meetings/workshops.

The projects also examined the role of caribou hunting in the lives of young adults from the communities in the NWT.   Young adults are faced with many challenges managing their roles with both the wage economy and the traditional economy in ways that sustain the health of the environment, themselves, their families and communities.  The mixed economy model suggests that the gains made in wage employment (income) can be used to support and sustain traditional pursuits of hunting, fishing, trapping and related on the land activities.  This fluctuating (global recession challenges) mixed economy model however, presents other challenges for hunters in terms of identity and traditional livelihood.  Some young adults find themselves caught in a conflict between the ideals and practices of one lifestyle and the other, resulting in stress, anxiety and related health outcomes.

The research aimed to explore the tensions, specifically the synergies and conflicts of wage employment and caribou harvesting experienced by harvesters in the North.