Out-dated attitudes, deficient infrastructure, block Inuit from Arctic science, G7 summit hears

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Canadian Inuit leader Natan Obed gives the opening keynote address at the G7 Arctic Sustainability Summit in Montreal. (Eilis Quinn/Eye on the Arctic)
Inuit are ready to work with southern scientists on the big climate and scientific questions facing the planet, but need to be seen as partners and not just as ‘objects’ by the research community, said Canada’s national Inuit leader at the G7 Arctic Sustainability Summit in Montreal on Wednesday.

“Inuit will always say: ‘Yes, there are broader research interests than just the Inuit community interests, yes, we can work with you, we can support natural sciences and social sciences and want the best research outcomes,  not just for us in our communities, but for the global community,” said Natan Obed, president of  Inuit Tapiriit Kanatami , Canada’s national Inuit organization, during his opening keynote address.

“But at the same time, you cannot just  walk past us, walk past our social inequity, and walk past our great research needs in pursuit of larger global missions.”

Research on Inuit health, and how climate change will affect Inuit communities and their infrastructure, is desperately needed, Obed said.

Ensuring that Arctic science projects both fund, and incorporate Inuit research needs, would go a long way to erasing the often one-sided research relationships that favour the priorities of southern scientists over those of the Inuit regions where the research is done, he said.

Hunters from the Arctic Canadian community of Cambridge Bay and scientists from Canada’s University of Calgary partner on a project researching muskox. Inuit hunters said they participated in the project because they wanted to work with researchers to better understand health changes they’d seen in the animals in recent years. (Eye on the Arctic)
Inuit blocked from science by more than just out-dated attitudes

The summit also heard how infrastructure challenges block Inuit from being full partners in scientific research.

“A lot of academics, and even government, rely on taking information from the Arctic but there’s not a lot of dialogue going back,” said Jeff Maurice, a fisheries policy advisor for Nunavut Tunngavik Incorporated, the Inuit land-claims organization in Canada’s eastern Arctic territory of Nunavut.

“I think it’s for the one reason that there’s no academic institution  to keep that knowledge in the territory,” Maurice said on the summit’s morning panel The Changing Arctic – biophysical and social-economic implications. 

There’s long history of one-sided research in the Arctic that favours southern scientists, said Jeff Maurice (far right), a policy advisor at Nunavut Tunngavik Incorporated. (Eilis Quinn/Eye on the Arctic)

Establishing a ‘University of Nunavut’ or ‘Arctic University,’ would help change what until  now has been a one-sided relationship favouring southern researchers, he said.

“(That) would ensure that knowledge was kept within the territory and also (used) to define social policy not just from a southern Canadian, or government perspective, but from an Inuit perspective.”

The Arctic Sustainability Summit is part of the G7 Research Summit Series and seeks to bring international academics and leaders together to discuss sustainability in the North.

The summit runs until May 24.

Write to Eilis Quinn at eilis.quinn(at)cbc.ca

Related stories from around the North:

Canada:  Video Documentary – How indigenous knowledge is changing what we know about the Arctic, Eye on the Arctic

Greenland/Denmark: Arctic science agreement comes into effect on Wednesday, Eye on the Arctic

Finland:  Sami group occupies island in northern Finland to protest fishing rules, Yle News

Norway:  The food crisis in the Far North, Barrents Observer

Russia:  More than 800 000 reindeer to be vaccinated against anthrax in Russia, The Independent Barents Observer

Sweden:  Legal battle over hunting and fishing in Sweden’s far north, Radio Sweden

United States: Mixing science with traditional knowledge, researchers hope to get seal oil on the menu in Alaska, Alaska Public Radio Network

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Eilís Quinn, Eye on the Arctic

Eilís Quinn, Eye on the Arctic

Eilís Quinn is a journalist and manages Radio Canada International’s Eye on the Arctic news cooperation project.

Eilís has reported from the Arctic regions of all eight circumpolar countries and has produced numerous documentary and multimedia series about climate change and the issues facing Indigenous peoples in the North.

Her investigative report "Death in the Arctic: A community grieves, a father fights for change," about the violent death of Robert Adams, a 19-year-old Inuk man from Arctic Quebec, received an honourable mention for excellence in reporting on violence and trauma at the 2019 Dart Awards in New York City.

Her multimedia project on the health challenges in the Canadian Arctic, "Bridging the Divide," was a finalist at the 2012 Webby Awards.

Eilís has worked for media organizations in Canada and the United States and as a TV host for the Discovery/BBC Worldwide series "Best in China."

Twitter: @Arctic_EQ

Email: eilis.quinn(at)cbc.ca

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