RESEARCH NOTES: Special Issue 2014

Spaces and Places
Janice Ikeda, Linda Liebenberg, & Michele Wood
Dalhousie University

The Spaces and Places Research Project, led by Dr. Linda Liebenberg and managed by Janice Ikeda at the Resilience Research Centre (RRC), Dalhousie University, in collaboration with the Nunatsiavut Government, explores how communities can build better civic and cultural engagement amongst youth. This visual methods study is taking place in two remote communities in Labrador, including one community within the Land Claim area of The Nunatsiavut Government. A total of 17 youth (12-17 years) participated, helping us gather and analyse data, and disseminate findings.

Youth were provided digital cameras to take photographs of the spaces and places around them; spaces that made them feel they belong to their community and spaces that made them feel they did not belong. Each youth was also filmed for a day. Youth were then interviewed about their photographs and a video compilation of their video footage. Finally, over one weekend, youth attended a data analysis workshop. Here youth helped us analyse and understand the project’s initial findings. Youth then created art-based dissemination projects.

Youth participants clearly stated that they want more opportunities to engage in cultural activities, in particular through their school. Although they do have some Inuktitut instruction and life skills (such as slipper or mitten making) they want more opportunities to learn their language, go out on the land, and learn activities such as hunting, fishing, beading, and slipper, boot, or mitten making. Youth commented that without the life skills course, they would have no opportunity to learn how to make seal skin mittens (Female, 16). When asked how they feel about these courses offered at school, one participant commented that, “it’s good, people get to see more out on the land there” (Male, 14), because this enables survival through activities such as hunting and wooding. This participant also explained that the life skills course makes him feel “welcome” at school because it’s “part of my culture” which makes him “want to go to school.”

Youth also spoke positively about learning about their cultural history and enjoyed watching videos and hearing stories about the past. A 17 year old participant commented that he would like more opportunities to learn from elders and “hear their stories of what they did, how they lived and how they hunted [because] it’s part of my tradition [and] it’s the way they hunted for a very long time”.

Previous research has shown that when youth are connected to their culture and language they are more likely to have positive outcomes. We have found these youth are no exception. Youth are eager to participate in their education and to achieve academic success. Educational engagement, however, appears dependent on opportunities to engage in cultural activities in conjunction with school curriculum that is inclusive of their Inuit culture. This research suggests that when these cultural elements are in place, youth are more likely to engage with school, increase their resilience processes, and have positive psychological and social outcomes in life.

For more information visit or

Dr. Linda Liebenberg, Principal Investigator
Co-Director, Resilience Research Centre
Adjunct Professor, Faculty of Graduate Studies
Dalhousie University


From Knowledge to Action: Understanding Wild Berries Health Benefits to Implement Community- Based Interventions Linking Public Health and Social Innovation In Nunavik
Lemire M 1, Harris C 2, Lucas M 1, Cuerrier A 3, Gauthier MJ 4, Bouchard A 4, Labranche E 4, Alary-Vézina P 5, Tardif M 6, Dewailly E 1

For centuries, the Inuit of Northern Canada relied only on the natural resources available to them. Traditional Inuit knowledge passed down through generations emphasized the importance of wild animals and plants in Inuit diet, medicine, and culture. Since the 1990s, the consumption of country food in Nunavik has decreased markedly and the rapid transition towards a western diet has led to excessive intake of sugar and salt. Food insecurity is still widespread in the North. Obesity and related cardiovascular disease (CVD) risk factors are emerging as major health concerns. Global environmental changes also affect Inuit diet and health, most notably through the accumulation of environmental contaminants in the food chain. Over recent years, science has not only corroborated traditional Inuit knowledge regarding the health benefits of many country foods but also learned from Inuit knowledge in studyingthe impacts of global changes on Northern ecosystems and health. Despite this progress, continued study and active promotion of country foods is urgently needed in order to maximize potential health benefits and minimize risks of contaminant exposure, and to develop and implement innovative community-based interventions celebrating the health benefits of country foods, traditional Inuit knowledge, healthy ecosystems, community empowerment and social economy.

With limited access to store-bought fruits and vegetables, Nunavik local berries may provide Inuit peoples with needed plant-derived nutrients and secondary metabolites. In addition to improving local food consumption, Nunavik berries offer unique potential for the prevention or management of metabolic disorders and associated cardiovascular complications. Low in sugar, salt and fat, wild berries may serve as an important local source of vitamins, minerals, and fibre, as well as other antioxidants such as polyphenols and carotenoids. Beyond antioxidant properties, several of these phytochemicals may improve insulin sensitivity or act as anti-inflammatory agents. In addition, certain phytochemicals may also chelate heavy metal ions, potentially reducing the risks of environmental contaminants.

In 2012, we developed a research project to study the chemical composition of local berries, seaweeds and other wild plant foods from different Nunavik villages, to evaluate the impact of wild berries on insulin resistance and obesity in mice, and to assess the impact of wild berry intake and plasma polyphenols on insulin-resistance and diabetes among Nunavik Inuit adults. While visiting communities to collect native plants, community members expressed a desire to consume more berries, but also highlighted numerous obstacles, from economic (e.g. time constraints) and social (e.g. gender and generational issues) to physical (e.g. no storage space in freezers) and environmental (e.g. seasonality). Seeking to translate the combined traditional and scientific support for berries into a community-based initiative, we engaged community stakeholders as well as regional governmental (NRBHSS and KSB) and non-profit partners (Biopterre) to develop The Purple Tongue Project in Tasiujaq and Kangiqsualujjuaq schools. We received Kativik Regional Government (KRG) support matching in-kind contributions from Biopterre to develop novel wild berry products (baby puree, roll ups, dried berries, granola bars, slush and frozen yogurt) that could be eventually produced by Individual Path Learning (IPL) students in schools. Our objectives with this intervention project are to improve wild berry consumption, distribution and availability throughout the year, propose local healthy alternatives to soft drinks and snacks, and stimulate youth empowerment and employment.

New formulations of the berry products were first evaluated by community representatives, whose feedback inspired recipe refinement and alternative formats. The berry products had to present low sugar content, produced at low cost, using locally available food items and simple cooking techniques, attractive for the youth, and in accordance with Inuit taste and culture. In Tasiujaq in September 2013, we introduced our selection of berry products to again receive feedback — this time from the IPL students from the two villages. Along with berry picking, we conducted several activities about traditional knowledge of plants, nutritional benefits of Nunavik berries, and berry patch mapping using GPS.

This first workshop with IPL students was a success. The students were present and attentive, tested the berry products, and participated in the outdoor activities. Everyone enjoyed the activity on traditional knowledge of the plants with Susie Morgan, an elder from Kangiqsualujjuaq. As Nathalie Ross, Tasiujaq school director, mentioned: “For the first time, my IPL students were the ones having the greatest and funkiest project in the school. We broke a taboo that IPL students are just drop-off and not good for anything.” From this experience, Mrs. Ross suggested that the intervention project could become an integral part of the pedagogical guide of IPL students on a 3 years basis. Collectively, we decided to focus on practical hands-on and tool kit activities (berry mapping and harvest assessment, making a herbarium, cooking berry recipes, hygiene and safety tips in a kitchen, tool construction, the basics of project management) to better involve young men in the project. Since our visit, IPL students collected more than 20 kg of berries in preparation for the next phase of the project — learning how to cook and prepare the products — in Kangiqsualujjuaq this past November.

Understanding the benefits of country foods consumed in Nunavik and partnering with Inuit institutions is central to the development and implementation of innovative community-based interventions aiming to address many issues at once: improve food security, promote Inuit culture, minimize risks from environmental contaminants and emergence of obesity, diabetes and CVD. Investing in community-initiatives to capacitate and empower the youth and generate social economy opportunities are undoubtedly one of the key leading to success.

This project is funded by ArcticNet, Kativik Regional Government, Biopterre and NRBHSS through the Nutrition North Canada Program. For further information on the research project, please visit: http://www.arcticnet.ulaval. ca/research/summary.php?project_id=48.

1 Centre de recherche du CHU du Québec, Université Laval, Quebec City, Quebec

2 Department of Biology, University of Ottawa, Ottawa, Ontario

3 Institut de recherche en biologie végétale (IRBV), Université de Montreal, Montreal, Quebec

4 Nunavik Regional Board of Health and Social Services (NRBHSS), Kuujjuaq, Quebec

5 Kativik School Board (KSB), Kuujjuaq, Quebec

6 Biopterre, Institut de technologie agroalimentaire, La Pocatière campus, La Pocatière, Quebec


Revitalization of Inuit Sign Language (ISL) for deaf Nunavummiut
James C. MacDougall, C.M., Ph.D., C. Psych.
Department of Psychology, McGill University and
Canadian Deafness Research and Training Institute

Although there has been a good deal of attention paid to the issue of hearing loss in Canada’s arctic region, the focus has mainly been with medical aspects of middle ear disease (Otitis Media) (Bowd, 2005). Sensory-neural hearing loss, resulting in severe to profound deafness, has largely been ignored as a topic for research, most likely due to the small numbers involved. In the south, the prevalence of deafness is known to be approximately 1/1000 (MacDougall, 1990). Estimates for the north suggest that due to outbreaks of various diseases such as meningitis, the prevalence may be at least three times higher (Destounis, MacDougall, Geisel, Pollitt, Waters and Gledhill (1990); MacDougall, (1990)).

The management of deaf children in the arctic, including the NWT and Nunavut, has proved to be controversial. Historically, children with sensory-neural deafness were sent south to residential schools for the deaf. Depending on the specific school, they may have experienced many of the negative issues associated with the residential school situation for Inuit children in general.

A further complication involves the ongoing controversy about the relative role of sign language versus exclusive “oral” communication methods (MacDougall, 2004). Until recently, most schools for the deaf in the south followed the “oral” method, forbidding any use of sign language. Deaf children from Nunavut would have been exposed only to speech and hearing in English, or in some cases to ASL. When the children returned home for the summer months they had great difficulty in communicating with their families – especially those families that were unilingual speakers of Inuktitut, or who used Inuit Sign Language as opposed to ASL. More recently, the education system in Nunavut has provided specialized education programs in the home communities, and in some cases, both “oral” and sign language methods are being used. However, the focus has been with ASL not ISL.

In 2006, as part of the community consultation in preparation for the Official Languages Act (2008), a special meeting of deaf people and their families from all regions of Nunavut was held in Iqaluit. The meeting was held under the auspices of the Canadian Deafness Research and Training Institute.

At that meeting it became clear that deaf Nunavummiut and their families have two distinct signed languages: American Sign Language (ASL) and Inuit Sign Language (ISL). The possibility of an indigenous sign language in Nunavut had already been suggested by MacDougall (2000; 2001).

A key recommendation from the 2006 community consultation involved the need for documenting the newly “discovered” sign language – Inuit Sign Language (ISL) – in the context of the oral history of deafness in the territory. Since that time, the Canadian Deafness Research and Training Institute (CDRTI) has documented the use of ISL through video and face to face meetings in various communities, including Iqaluit, Pangnirtung, Rankin Inlet, Taloyoak and Arviat. Print materials illustrating ISL signs were also developed and distributed throughout Nunavut and a captioned video which summarizes the project to date is available from the author. This documentation project is consistent with a world-wide resurgence of interest in the revitalization and recognition of aboriginal sign languages (Zeshan and de Vos, 2012).

The support of the Government of Nunavut is gratefully acknowledged. No conflicts to report.


Bowd, A. D. (2005). Otitis Media: Health and Social Consequences for Aboriginal youth in Canada’s North. International Journal of Circumpolar Health, 64:1, 5-15.

Destounis, B. V., MacDougall, J. C., Geisel, E., Pollitt, T., Waters, G. and Gledhill, R. (1990). «Prevalence of disability in the Baffin: A model for the delivery of community based rehabilitation,» in B. Postl, P. Gilbert, J. Goodwill, J. Moffatt, P. Oneil, P. Sarsfield, T. Young (Eds.), Circumpolar Health 90: Proceedings of the 8th congress of circumpolar health. Whitehorse, Yukon

MacDougall, J. C. (2004). “Irreconcilable Differences: The Education of Deaf Children in Canada”. Education Canada, Special Edition on Exceptional Children. Canadian Education Association, Winter Issue.

MacDougall, J. C. (2001). Access to Justice for Deaf Inuit in Nunavut: the Role of Inuit Sign Language. Canadian Psychology/ Psychologie canadienne, 42, 61-73.

MacDougall, J. C. (2000). Access to Justice for Deaf Inuit in Nunavut: Focus on Signed Languages. Government of Canada. Department of Justice Research Report.

MacDougall, J. C. (1990). The McGill Study of Deaf Children in Canada. In A. Weisel E., Demographic and Large Scale Research with Hearing Impaired Populations: An International Perspective. Washington D. C.: Gallaudet Research Institute and Rochester Institute of Technology.

MacDougall, J. C. (1987). McGill Study of Deaf Children in Canada. Guest Editorial, The Journal of The Association of Canadian Educators of the Hearing Impaired, 12, 151154.

Official Languages Act and the Inuit Language Protection Act (2008). Government of Nunavut. This act established Inuktitut, English and French as the territory’s official languages, and provides special support to the Inuit Language.

Zeshan, U., de Vos, C. (2012). Sign Languages in Village Communities: Anthropological and Linguistic Insights. Berlin: De Gruyter Mouton.