“It’s just a sense of home”: Inuit social connections and caribou declines in Labrador, Canada

                                                                                       (Ecology and Society, In Press)

"So much knowledge... could be passed down by going hunting or skinning caribou, preparing it for supper just sitting around with your family having that meal of wild food."

“No matter [where ever] we caribou hunters went, you’d always manage to meet people or hunters, I guess, caribou hunters from all over Labrador.”

“Something as simple as sharing it out with others, you can’t do it the same like we did when there was an abundance [of caribou].”

"The participation from different communities, going into other communities and socializing and sharing and helping each other, and that’s not there anymore."

Abstract

Many caribou populations are declining across the Circumpolar North, presenting challenges for various Indigenous communities who have deep and enduring relationships with this animal. In Labrador, Canada, caribou herds have recently experienced population declines, including the George River herd which has dropped by 99% from its peak, leading to the enactment of a total hunting ban in 2013 issued by the Government of Newfoundland and Labrador. The decline and subsequent hunting ban have affected various aspects of Inuit lifeways and wellbeing. Using Inuit-led multi-media methods, this project heard voices of Inuit across the Nunatsiavut and NunatuKavut regions in Labrador, Canada, which: 1) described the importance of caribou for Inuit social connections, and 2) explored the ways in which the changes in caribou populations and management strategies are influencing these social connections. Data from video interviews (Nunatsiavut region: n=54; NunatuKavut region: n=30) were collected and analyzed using video and photography-based methods. Results indicate how caribou are important social connectors: human-caribou relationships are core to Inuit socialization, inter-connection, and shared experience and memory regarding families, communities, and food and knowledge sharing across Labrador’s landscape. Thus, declines in caribou populations and associated social interaction have had serious implications for identity, livelihoods, emotional wellbeing, cultural continuity and knowledge transfer. In order to support the collective wellbeing of both caribou and those who are connected to caribou, increased understanding and integration of these social connections into caribou-related decision-making and research is recommended.

People came here to harvest caribou. It was that social aspect of it. It was a part of who we were. So it not only played a significant role for filling bellies, but there was that social, respectful aspect of that.

 

—  Derrick Pottle, Rigolet

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