From the Magazine

The future of research in the Canadian North

The quote from Together Today for our Children Tomorrow on the inside front cover demonstrates a clear vision for Northern research that reflects and promotes self-determination. It does not exclude partnerships with southern researchers, but it does make an argument for what those partnerships should look like. While this document was written nearly half a century ago, it is part of an agenda that Northerners, in particular Indigenous Northerners, continue to push for and put into practice today. The purpose of this issue is to celebrate and highlight these Northerners, their dedication and creativity, and the existing capacity to lead Northern research.

There is no single experience with research, or vision for research, in the North. The authors who contributed to this issue represent a diversity of perspectives from across the Canadian North, from the Yukon to Labrador, including Indigenous and non-Indigenous contributors. The 19 authors featured here are just a small sample of the people who are leading the conversation around how research in the North needs to change and how Northerners can continue to drive research, as both partners and leaders.

In editing this issue, we wanted to shift the conversation to focus not just on why Northern research agendas should be in Northern hands, but how, in many cases, they already are in Northern hands. We are two non-Indigenous women living and conducting research in Whitehorse on the traditional territories of Kwanlin Dün First Nation and Ta’an Kwäch’än Council. One of us was born and raised here (Staples) and the other has lived here for ten years (Klein). We are both pursuing graduate degrees with southern institutions and have experienced firsthand misconceptions about the lack of capacity in the North to conduct research that pervade these institutions. Undoubtedly, strong partnerships between Northern organizations and communities, and southern researchers and institutions have been created; however, the aim of this issue is to challenge the long-standing and persistent assumption that these partnerships are the only avenue for conducting research. In Conversation features an excerpt from a roundtable discussion held with four Northern research institutes and colleges (the full discussion is available to read or listen to on the NPA website). In this discussion, Bronwyn Hancock, Associate VP of Research Development at Yukon College, speaks to the significance of existing Northern research capacities: “We live and work in the North, and so inherently the work that we do at our colleges and our institutions… [is] creating opportunities for Northern leadership on research and education. It’s not something that we need to be looking to create; it’s something that we’re doing inherently by the fact that we are all building and working for these institutes that are placed in and committed to the North.”

The need to support existing capacity for research in the North becomes more significant in the context of the ongoing challenges and concerns within current Northern research practice. In his piece on Arctic research governance, Pitseolak Pfeiffer takes issue with what he describes as the “credibility gap” in Arctic research, whereby Western knowledge is provided greater credibility than Inuit knowledge within research and policy. He argues that this in turn influences how decision-makers, typically based in the south, come to see Inuit Nunangat as lacking capacity. Tosh Southwick and David Silas provide personal reflections on the challenges of Northern research that they have experienced. They describe issues of poor communication between Northern communities and researchers, and Elders being overwhelmed by requests for information. Alison Perrin provides another perspective on concerns pertaining to research in the North. She highlights how physical science research and funding has been prioritized over social sciences, humanities, and health science research in the North, despite the fact that the latter has been identified as an area of concern by Northern organizations and communities. Such challenges are not recent phenomena and the history of Northern research is one with which Northern communities, organizations, and governments continue to grapple.

Addressing these issues is not easy. Lindsay Staples, whose piece looks at the relationship between land claims and Northern research, acknowledges that meeting commitments to reconciliation that are foundational to nation-to-nation agreements is complex and time-consuming. Staples points out that establishing new forms and levels of collaboration in research that are tied to reconciliation will be similarly complex, but it is a price that must be paid. Many of the authors in this issue advance understandings of reconciliation through research. David Silas, for example, advances what he sees as a definition of reconciliation in research: “this can be incorporated under an umbrella of sharing, caring, teaching and respect, and the inclusion of a reciprocal relationship where there is an opportunity to define that path early on and in true partnership” (see Research and reconciliation in this issue).

Despite previous and ongoing challenges in Northern research, a number of individuals, organizations, and institutions in the North are finding ways to reshape the Northern research landscape and redefine how research is being conducted in the North. Gwen Healey et al. describe the Piliriqatigiinniq Community Health Research Model, a framework based on Inuit theoretical concepts, that guides the Qaujigiartiit Health Research Centre in Iqaluit. Similarly, Jamie Snook, Ashlee Cunsolo, and Aaron Dale provide critical insight into the “shared space” model of decision-making involving Inuit, provincial, and federal representatives on Torngat Wildlife and Plants Co-Management Board in Nunatsiavut, and the ways in which this guides their research. Such approaches demonstrate that although critical issues with Northern research are likely to persist, there remain feelings of hope for what Northern research is becoming and can become.

The final thematic piece, written by Jen Jones, builds on these feelings of hope. She provides a brief description of the proposed “Northern Canadian Research Congress,” a forum centred on research in, by, and for the North. Other forums across the North are similarly highlighting the voices of Northerners, such as We Are One Mind: Perspectives from Emerging Indigenous Leaders on the Arctic Policy Framework. Created by Our Voices, a collective of young Indigenous leaders, this document is a glaring reminder of the need to listen to youth, and in particular Indigenous youth, in the conversation about Northern research and policy.

We are seeing the strengths and capacities of Northerners leading Northern research through strong community partnerships; connections to the land, animals, and people; assertions of Indigenous self-determination; and existing knowledge and understanding of the North. In reading this issue, we challenge readers to consider, or reconsider, their relationship to Northern research in light of the concepts, concerns, and calls to action raised by the Northern researchers, educators, organizations, and institutions featured here. These contributors, and so many more across the North, are laying the foundation for the future of Northern research. ◉

Rhiannon Klein and Kiri Staples

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