The Arctic is warming faster than any place on Earth and its effects can be observed in everything from receding ice to invasive insects to public health issues.
Western Science has been concerned about the changes in the Arctic for decades, but only recently has it turned to Inuit researchers and their expertise in the Circumpolar North to determine what exactly is at risk. Collaboration between Inuit and academic researchers has demonstrated a more fulsome understanding of both the tangible and intangible losses associated with rising global temperatures in the Arctic.
The benefits of this collaborative model, and the future of Inuit-led research, can be found in Rigolet, Labrador, where the community is incorporating both Western and Indigenous ways of knowing to establish integrated environment and health monitoring systems.
Michele Wood, Researcher/Evaluator for the Nunatsiavut Government, Department of Health and Social Development in Happy Valley-Goose Bay, explains that community-led research contributes to more complete data collection and research that reflects the context of the region. Community members in the region rely on both ways of knowing.
“It’s walking in two worlds,” she says. “You’re using qualitative and quantitative data that you obtain using western methods, but you’re also using the contextual pieces in the traditional knowledge that exists in the region and then marrying the two together.”
For Michele, monitoring the environment is deeply connected to interpersonal and community aspects of public health.
“We look at the environment as a sort of circular thing,” she says of Inuit worldview. “There isn’t one aspect that influences our communities. There are always many factors that could have an equal amount of importance in how we view our environment, our community, and ourselves. So, in the context of public health monitoring we are looking at how the environment can affect the personal.”