The Nanuk Knowledge and Dialogue Project

Background & Problem

Polar bears are foundational in Inuit livelihoods, well-being, and culture throughout Inuit Nunangat (Inuit homelands). Canada has a robust polar bear management system, led by co-management boards created from modern-day land claim agreements. Yet, polar bears face a variety of threats that impact their habitat and population, including sea ice loss due to climate change, resource development, and management challenges related to lack of cross-regional coordination and communication among Inuit and non-Inuit stakeholders. 

 

Polar bears are connected to so many aspects of wildlife conservation and Inuit ways of living in the Eastern Arctic: food security, culture, law, public health, land stewardship, spirituality, and many other facets of life. Given these complex interconnections, it has been recognized that polar bear conservation decision making cannot solely be based on Western biological sciences – instead, it is crucial to have interdisciplinary and inter-cultural thinking when making decisions related to this species. However, Inuit organizations responsible for environmental and wildlife stewardship experience challenges in sharing diverse knowledges and coordinating polar bear management strategies with both Inuit and non-Inuit decision-makers and stakeholders. For example, Inuit in Nunavut, Nunavik (Quebec), and Nunatsiavut (Labrador), all rely on and have jurisdictional rights to the Davis Strait Polar Bear subpopulation (est. 2158 polar bears); yet, these regions rarely have the opportunity to come together to share knowledge, research, and strategies to support Inuit and polar bears in the region. Further, vast geography, sparsely populated communities, and extremely costly travel have, at times, led to conflict in the region among Inuit, researchers, different levels of Government. Consequently, Inuit knowledge about polar bears are often not reflected in federal, territorial, and provincial policy decisions.

 

Sustainable polar bear management and maintaining a successful co-management system is a high priority for Inuit organizations across Inuit Nunangat. Further, there is a need to improve the impact and uptake of Inuit knowledge about polar bears to ensure that Inuit voices are being reflected in conservation planning. New collaborations and insights from diverse people spanning different sectors, disciplines, and worldviews is also extremely important for moving forward with the health of both polar bears and the communities who share an enduring relationship with this species.  

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Project Goal

Inuit wildlife co-management boards from Nunavut, Nunavik (Northern Quebec), and Nunatsiavut (Labrador) have come together in a unique partnership to strengthen communication and support the uptake of Inuit knowledge in polar bear conservation, specifically related to the Davis Strait Polar Bear Subpopulation. Through the creation of an Interdisciplinary Working Group, the primary goal of this initiative is to facilitate dialogue amongst diverse people, review innovative proposals, and to make policy recommendations to support sustainable utilization and conservation of polar bears into the future.

Project Location

This initiative is entirely focused on the Davis Strait Polar Bear Subpopulation, which has a large range spanning across the Eastern Arctic, including much of the Nunavut, Nunavik, and Nunatsiavut regions. Project partners and Inuit members of this project come from a variety of communities across this Davis Strait range.

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Inuit Leadership

Three Inuit co-management boards have come together to carry out the Nanuk Dialogue and Knowledge Project in the Eastern Arctic:

The Torngat Wildlife, Plants, and Fisheries Secretariat

The Torngat Secretariat is the implementation agent of the Torngat Joint Fisheries Board and the Torngat Wildlife and Plants Co-Management Board. The Secretariat is a team of professionals based in Happy Valley-Goose Bay that provide financial management, logistical, project management and analytical support to both boards. The Torngat Secretariat specializes in co-management strategy, conservation recommendations to co-management boards and policy-makers, and social science and conservation research. The area of responsibility is the Labrador Inuit Settlement Area (LISA) consisting of all lands, including lands covered by water, and tidal waters and islands within the boundaries set out in the Labrador Inuit Land Claims Agreement.

 

Dr. Jamie Snook, the Executive Director of the Torngat Wildlife Plants and Fisheries Secretariat, is one of the project leads for the Nanuk Dialogue and Knowledge Project.

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The Nunavut Wildlife Management Board

The Nunavut Wildlife Management Board is an Institution of Public Government established in 1994. The NWMB was established in accordance with the Nunavut Agreement, which was ratified on May 25, 1993. The Board is the main instrument of wildlife management in the Nunavut Settlement Area (NSA) and is a co-management Board that consists of nine appointed members. The Board and its co-management partners work together to combine the knowledge and understanding of wildlife managers, users, and the public to make decisions concerning the management of wildlife in Nunavut.

 

Jason Akearok, the Executive Director of the Nunavut Wildlife Management Board, is one of the project leads for the Nanuk Dialogue and Knowledge Project.

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The Nunavik Marine Region Wildlife Board

The NMRWB is the main instrument of wildlife management in the Nunavik Marine Region and was created under the Nunavik Inuit Land Claim Agreement (NILCA). The NMRWB aims to consider both western science and traditional Inuit knowledge, or Inuit Qaujimajatuqangit (IQ) when making wildlife management decisions. The board is comprised of seven appointed members – three by Makivik Corporation, one by the Federal Minster of Fisheries and Oceans, one by the Federal Minister of the Environment, one by the Government of Nunavut, and a chairperson, nominated by the board members.

 

Tommy Palliser, the Executive Director of the Nunavik Marine Region Wildlife Board, is one of the project leads for the Nanuk Dialogue and Knowledge Project.

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Interdisciplinary Working Group

The Interdisciplinary Working Group will bring together people from an array of backgrounds and sectors with direct expertise and experience related to Inuit-polar bear relationships, Inuit knowledge, public health, polar bear biology, law, wildlife conservation, political science, and a diversity of other elements related to the management of the Davis Strait Polar Bear subpopulation. This working group consists of 12 members, including two Inuit members from each of the three regions of focus (2 from Nunavut, 2 from Nunavik, and 2 from Nunatsiavut). The goal of this working group is to enhance polar management and provide a high level of coordination and shared knowledge between the three regions, while at the same time respecting the sovereignty of Inuit in each region to utilize their respective management systems that have been negotiated through modern day land claim agreements. Collectively, this working group will review all the available knowledge on the Davis Strait polar bear subpopulation, and will formulate non-binding and innovative policy recommendations to the co-management systems sharing in the management of the Davis Strait Polar Bear subpopulation. Introducing a collaborative environment that can produce transdisciplinary solutions will advance polar bear science and decision-making in the Eastern Arctic, and create opportunities for leadership in research and the management of complex interjurisdictional resources, such as polar bears.

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Derrick Pottle

Nunatsiavut polar bear harvester

Ross Flowers

Nunatsiavut polar bear harvester

Daniel Annanack

Nunavik polar bear harvester

Johnny Peters

Nunavik polar bear harvester

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Doug Clark

Professor, Univerity of Saskatchewan

Amy Caughey

Nunavut Department of Health

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Stephen Atkinson

Wildlife Biologist

Eric Oliver

Professor, Dalhousie University

Dominique Henri

Environment and Climate Change Canada

Sari Graben

Associate Dean - Lincoln Alexander School of Law at Ryerson University

Additional Project Activities

There are two additional dimensions of the Nanuk Dialogue and Knowledge Project that directly inform the work of the Interdisciplinary Working Group:

Inuit Knowledge Synthesis

This project is conducting the first synthesis of Inuit Knowledge in the region, by analyzing the relevant Traditional Knowledge studies and literature from Nunatsiavut, Nunavik, and Nunavut. This work will ensure that the diversity and richness of Inuit knowledge throughout the Eastern Arctic will be brought together, analysed and reviewed in depth by the Interdisciplinary Working Group, and mobilized to inform decision-making. This synthesis is currently being conducted by an independent academic team with experience working with traditional Inuit knowledge related to polar bears.

Science Communication

This project also has a strong communication strategy related to the latest Davis Strait Polar Bear Subpopulation estimate. Findings from these survey results are being communicated in plain language format and culturally-appropriate ways for Inuit in each of the three regions, including through infographics, posters, social media, and other visual approaches. Below are three infographics that were created to share information related to three specific topics: the survey results estimating the abundance of the Davis Strait Polar Bear Subpopulation, Factors affecting Davis Strait Polar Bear Subpopulation, and how polar bears are surveyed using genetic biopsy.

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Project Impact

The Nanuk Dialogue and Knowledge Project will help position the Eastern Arctic as leaders in utilizing different knowledge systems for a common species that migrate through multiple geo-political boundaries to support polar bear thriving. This work will provide opportunities to enhance an already robust system of polar bear management in Canada by incorporating Inuit knowledge at regional, national, and international decision-making forums.

 

The project objectives and methods are designed to interconnect, and to ensure the Davis Strait Polar Bear Subpopulation benefits from utilizing the best available Inuit knowledge from three different Inuit regions, and from diverse disciplinary lenses. This project was also designed to connect knowledge with public policy recommendations and implementation and is anticipated to have a positive impact towards knowledge co-production, shared understandings, and a continuation of a robust co-management system for polar bears. This applied approach provides an opportunity for this work to have positive impacts in communities where mixed livelihood strategies, food security, connecting to land, cultural continuity, and self-determination are essential to Inuit; and to support decision-making at the local, regional, national, and international levels.

 

This project will also directly contribute to Inuit-led recovery strategies outlined in the recent Nunavut Polar Bear Co-Management Plan, the Polar Bear Management Plan for Québec, the Eeyou Marine Region and the Nunavik Marine Region, and the Labrador Polar Bear Traditional Ecological Knowledge Report by prioritizing the documentation and amplification of Inuit Knowledge to support polar bear management and public understandings of Inuit-polar bear relationships.