Meaningful engagement of northern Indigenous communities in research

Building bridges between science and Inuit knowledge

Photo: Shelly Elverum / Ocean Wise

Canada’s North is full of valuable research opportunities. But too often, the decisions about research priorities and methods are made by researchers with no connection to the areas where the research will take place. Indigenous communities in these areas are left with little voice in these decisions—despite the enormous impacts they can have on those communities.

Eric Solomon co-leads Ikaarvik: Barriers to Bridges, an Arctic youth-led initiative to help northern communities build relationships with southern researchers and give Inuit a stronger voice in the studies and decisions that affect them.

A call for better engagement

“In the wake of the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples and the Truth and Reconciliation Commission, there’s a really strong call for more meaningful engagement with Indigenous communities in research,” Solomon said. “But there isn’t a lot out there to show what that looks like when it’s done right.”

He noted that in some places, like Nunavut, researchers applying for permits and funding must explain how they will incorporate Inuit Qaujimajatuqangit (IQ) into their research. In Nunavut, IQ includes Inuit Traditional Knowledge, values and customs. It is as much a way of behaving and thinking as it is a body of knowledge. However, application forms for research permits and funding requests offer no information to explain the concept, so researchers from other parts of the country are left to interpret IQ and how to incorporate it on their own. This often leads to a narrow understanding of the term as referring simply to Inuit knowledge of the land.

“Incorporating IQ into research is more than just hiring an Indigenous guide or assistant,” said Solomon. “It’s about your actions, behaviours and attitudes before, during and after your research.”

Recommendations for incorporating IQ

Helping researchers learn how to build IQ into their work was the goal of an Ikaarvik summit held in November 2018. During the summit, youth from four Inuit communities came together to discuss how researchers could combine science with IQ and create truly meaningful engagements with northern communities. The result was a set of 38 recommendations, which will soon be published in key Arctic journals and online. Ikaarvik youth also held a workshop for graduate students at the ArcticNet Annual Scientific Meeting in December 2018.

“That session was incredibly well received,” said Solomon. “When their time was up and they had to leave the conference room, they all wanted to keep the discussion going, so we had 80 people sitting on the floor in the foyer for another 45 minutes.”

Through its outreach and work with researchers, Ikaarvik is proving that incorporating IQ and building real relationships with northern communities produces better, more complete results, which can benefit both Indigenous and non-Indigenous communities alike.

Want to learn more?

Visit the Ikaarvik website to learn more about the work being done to bridge the gap between researchers and northern communities.