are in the MOST Phase I website (1994-2003).
The MOST Phase II website is available at: www.unesco.org/shs/most.
|Best Practices on Indigenous Knowledge||MOST/NUFFIC (IK-Unit)|
‘Voices from the Bay’: Documenting and Communicating Indigenous Ecological Knowledge from the Hudson Bay Bioregion
Community participation, cultural identity, curriculum development, ecological research, ecology, ecosystems, environmental management, learning, resource management, teaching
Introducing the practice
The coastal and island communities of
Hudson Bay, James Bay, Hudson Strait and Foxe Basin, covering an area of
1,150,995 km, practise the traditional ecological knowledge of the Inuit and
Cree peoples, who are indigenous to the Hudson Bay Bioregion of arctic and sub-arctic
Twenty-eight communities previously
unidentified on area maps of the bioregion participated in the Hudson Bay
Traditional Ecological Knowledge and Management Systems (TEKMS) Study: 15 Inuit
and 13 Cree communities with populations ranging from 250 to 2,500 persons.
Each of these remote and geographically
dispersed communities has its own unique identity and socio-cultural features
stemming from its ancestral relations, traditional land use and occupancies, and
historical contacts with Europeans and the Government of Canada. Three Inuktitut
dialects and five Cree dialects are spoken in the region.
In the early 1990s, concern was
expressed in both southern and northern Canada about the cumulative impact that
several proposed hydroelectric projects would have on the natural environment
and the indigenous inhabitants of Hudson and James Bays. The Hudson Bay TEKMS
study was initiated in response to these concerns during the winter of 1991 as
part of a three-year initiative undertaken by two non-governmental organizations
and the community government of Sanikiluaq. A community-based work plan was
developed and grant proposal was drafted.
Thirty communities were identified and
invited to participate in the community-led study to document the traditional
ecological knowledge of Inuit and Crees living on islands and areas surrounding
the Hudson and James Bays. The aim was to inform public policy and environmental
decision-making for the Hudson Bay bioregion.
The community of Sanikiluaq on the
Belcher Islands in southeastern Hudson Bay hosted an initial regional meeting of
nine coastal and island communities in October 1992. At this meeting, the
indigenous delegates discussed their environmental concerns, selected
communities for involvement in the study, and identified the discussion topics
for a series of regionally based meetings. Six regional, community-based
meetings were held in 1992 and 1993. Seventy-eight Elders, hunters and women
participated in these meetings and shared their knowledge concerning rivers,
currents, sea ice, weather, animals, human health, traditional management, and
the effects of development in the coastal, marine and some inland areas of the
Hudson Bay bioregion.
IK recorded on map overlays, audio tapes
and paper was translated and transcribed into English in the host communities
and sent to the study office in Sanikiluaq. There it was organized into general
topics and synthesized for review and verification by the same IK holders during
a second series of meetings in the fall of 1993, and a second regional workshop
in January 1994. In May 1994, 12 IK holders from the study presented and
discussed their findings on climatic changes, changing current and ice regimes,
long-term effects of flow diversions, habitat change and loss, animal population
and migration changes, contamination of the Hudson Bay food web, and changing
land use patterns. This was done in a joint workshop with an equal number of
scientists familiar with or working in the Hudson Bay area. The implications of
the environmental changes for social, cultural and physical systems were also
Contractual obligations were met in 1995
with the preparation of a report and production of GIS-generated maps on
environmental changes in the Hudson Bay bioregion. Also in 1995, the community
of Sanikiluaq was selected for international recognition by the Friends of the
United Nations. The community received one of 50 awards in honour of the United
Nations’ 50th anniversary. The award was for promoting cultural integrity and
positive multicultural relations among Cree and Inuit of Hudson and James Bays.
Editing of the report resulted in publication of ‘Voices from the Bay: The Traditional Ecological Knowledge of Inuit and Cree in the Hudson Bay Bioregion’, which was compiled by Miriam McDonald, Lucassie Arragutainaq and Zack Novalinga and published in 1997 by the Environmental Committee of the Municipality of Sanikiluaq and the Canadian Arctic Resource Committee. A relatively quiet time followed publication of the book. The issue of development and its cumulative effects disappeared with the ‘shelving’ of the Great Whale Hydroelectric Complex project. Members of the Sanikiluaq study team participated in workshops; symposiums and conferences upon invitation, but neither the study nor the book generated much interest or concern either inside or outside the community.
In the year 2000, the Environmental
Committee of the Municipality of Sanikiluaq became aware of a resurging interest
in industrial development of the mineral, oil and gas and hydroelectric
potential in the Hudson Bay bioregion. Interest in ‘Voices from the Bay’ is
increasing as a result. This has presented new opportunities to express
indigenous ecological knowledge, communicate study findings and participate in
integrated management-planning activity for the Hudson Bay region.
In May 2002, a joint Municipal
Council-Environmental Committee meeting with the Premier of the Government of
Nunavut and Deputy Minister of Executive and Inter-Governmental Affairs affirmed
the value and validity of the practice, in recognition of the fact that a
healthy Hudson Bay is essential for the success and well-being of Sanikiluaq and
the other coastal and island communities in the Hudson Bay bioregion.
‘Voices from the Bay’ as an IK
practice originated with the Hudson Bay Traditional Ecological Knowledge and
Management Systems (TEKMS) study. The aim of the study from the perspective of
its indigenous participants was to put their ancestral knowledge of the
environment into writing so that it is appropriately transmitted and
incorporated into environmental assessments and policies and communicated
effectively to scientists, the interested public, and the youth of the
participating communities. The aim of the study from the perspective of those
who funded it was to ensure that the traditional ecological knowledge of Inuit
and Cree living in the Hudson Bay bioregion is an integral part of
decision-making for the Hudson Bay bioregion. The aim of the study from the
perspective of the three-year initiative known as the Hudson Bay Programme was
to identify and record environmental changes in the Hudson Bay ecosystem from
the observations and knowledge of the indigenous peoples living in it.
Traditional ecological knowledge as an
IK practice is still in use throughout the Hudson Bay bioregion on a daily,
seasonal and year-round basis. Elders, hunters, women and youth acquire and
apply it in pursuit of sustainable livelihoods. Young student-teachers use the
‘Voices from the Bay’ publication as a resource and incorporate it into
their course activities and teaching. Youth learn of IK through stories and the
sharing of food with Elders on the land and in the communities’ primary and
‘Voices from the Bay’ as an IK
practice is at the early stage of entering into a new phase of activity. Its
messages are starting to be communicated within the Canadian political world and
could well be heeded as agreements regarding hydroelectric development and
regional economic development in various jurisdictions are negotiated and
implemented over the next 25 years. The IK holders continue to have a role in
the affairs of the Sanikiluaq Environmental Committee, and the
multi-jurisdictional Hudson Bay Oceans Working Group encourages expression of
their views and communication of their knowledge.
of the practice
The indigenous ecological knowledge
associated with this practice originates from interaction with animals in the
marine waters, islands and lands surrounding the camps and communities of Hudson
and James Bays. It began being acquired by the ancestors of Inuit and Cree
peoples as they occupied the area after disappearance of the Laurentide Ice
Sheet about 10,000 years B.C.
The indigenous peoples’ connection to
the lands, waters, animals and atmosphere is a continuous thread through time in
the evolution of the Hudson Bay ecosystem. Their indigenous ecological knowledge
continues to be generated and expressed in the communities of today through
educational activities, cultural pursuits, artistic expression and subsistence
The Hudson Bay TEKMS study originated in the Inuit community of Sanikiluaq. The idea emerged following a national radio interview with Grand Chief Matthew Coon-Come, who asked who would be listening to the Cree peoples when they talked about the effects of existing and proposed hydro-electric development on their traditional ways and lands.
Content and approach
The purpose of ‘Voices from the Bay’ is to document and communicate indigenous ecological knowledge in such a way that it will be heard and taken into consideration for responding to changes occurring in social, cultural and physical processes of the Hudson Bay bioregion. Its aims are:
· To make known the indigenous ecological knowledge of Hudson and James Bay inhabitants with respect to their natural and cultural environments.
· To support policy and decision-making processes interested in incorporating traditional ecological knowledge in their systems.
· To advance global knowledge systems by combining traditional ecological knowledge and scientific data for educating and informing people on the dynamics of a particular ecosystem.
involved in the practice
Many parties were involved in the study:
· The Environmental Committee of the Municipality of Sanikiluaq.
· The Honourable Peter Kattuk, Member of the Nunavut Legislative Assembly for Hudson Bay.
· Elder and academic advisors.
· Regional coordinators.
· Community leadership.
· Indigenous-knowledge holders.
· Linguistic translators.
· Community researchers.
The Environmental Committee of the Municipality of Sanikiluaq was responsible for the practice. The beneficiaries of the practice are the Hudson Bay Programme, the indigenous participants and peoples of the Hudson Bay bioregion, and environmental decision-makers, policy-makers and educators.
In the study, an average of two or three
TEKMS holders participated from each of 28 communities. Most were either Elders
or active hunters, and the average age was 56 years. The youngest contributor
was 26 years old and the eldest was born in 1909. More men (72) than women (6)
participated in the study because of its focus on understanding the dynamics and
changes occurring in the Hudson Bay ecosystem, which is generally but not
exclusively gender-based knowledge. Indigenous knowledge is used in both the
planning and the execution of the practice.
A community-based, participatory
research approach was used for developing the initial study. Indigenous peoples
from two different cultures became involved in the design, development,
implementation and research aspects of the study as well as being the only
contributors of information to it. The Study Coordinator was an indigenous
resident of Sanikiluaq, and the Research Coordinator a non-indigenous resident.
The first step was to identify the
communities in the coastal and island areas of the Hudson Bay bioregion and to
develop a work plan which would become a funding proposal and guide for
implementation of the study. The purpose of the study was to place the
ecological knowledge held by indigenous residents of the Hudson Bay bioregion in
the spotlight and to show the contribution it can make to advancing global
knowledge systems related to the Hudson Bay ecosystem.
‘Voices from the Bay’ has to date remained apolitical. It is not self-promoting and has not developed an ideology. Respect, perseverance and teamwork are cornerstones of the practice.
The role of Indigenous Knowledge
Indigenous knowledge is at the core of
the practice and its value is immense. It was both the premise for and basis of
the study: an historic, empowering and rewarding experience for many of the IK
contributors. It was historic in that the IK contributors were cognisant of
putting their orally communicated traditional ecological knowledge into writing
for the first time in history. It was empowering in that they shared this
mission with peers from many communities sharing the same environmental outlook,
and they believed it would make a difference in the way decisions affecting the
environment and communities of the Hudson Bay bioregion would be made. It was
rewarding in that for many it was the first time they had the opportunity to
formally meet with their peers to discuss in their own language and amongst
themselves what they know about the natural environment and the changes
occurring within it and their cultures through the introduction of western
industrial systems and practices.
Indigenous knowledge can contribute to a
better understanding of the Hudson Bay ecosystem and can help to identify
changes and indicators of change within it. It can also provide indigenous
insights into the growth and effects of human activity in the bioregion. This
information is valuable for the management and protection of the Hudson Bay, and
for ensuring that human activity does not exceed certain limits.
Indigenous knowledge is also contributing to the formation of new partnerships which could result in development of a unified approach to addressing the increasing effects of human activity and to developing a multi-jurisdictional framework for managing and protecting the Hudson Bay.
‘Voices from the Bay’ honours the
expression, and endorses the socio-cultural values, of two distinct cultures,
recognising that their societies, cultures and politics differ but they have
unifying values concerning the natural world and human-animal relationships.
It has been beyond the scope of the
practice to document in detail the socio-cultural values and spirituality of the
two cultures with respect to the natural environment. Some IK contributors have
suggested that this should be done.
The traditional ecological knowledge of
Inuit and Cree in the Hudson Bay bioregion is specialized knowledge in that it
is acquired and refined through an accumulation of concrete, personal
experiences. It is practised in the course of traditional land-use activities,
and acquired from observing, listening to, and interacting with other people and
with the land, water, rivers, sea ice, currents, atmosphere, climate, and
animals on a regular and frequent basis.
The holders of traditional ecological
knowledge in the Hudson Bay bioregion have few opportunities to earn money from
their knowledge because there are significant barriers to their entry to the
wage economy. They do use it, however, to alleviate poverty in the subsistence
Some IK holders are paid for the
cultural education work they do in schools and for the services as guides which
they provide to tourists and scientists.
transformation of knowledge
The IK of this practice is transmitted
between the members of communities primarily through participation in land-based
activities, conversations, meetings and gatherings.
Traditionally, it is transmitted between
generations through the observation and play of young children and then, from
the time the children start taking their first animals at around the age of
eight, through active participation in land-based activities. There is a strong
reliance on observation and allowing children to make mistakes. As the children
get older, their elders start correcting them for their mistakes. As young men,
Inuit are encouraged to go out and learn directly from their natural
surroundings under various circumstances. In James Bay and western Hudson Bay,
Cree youth used to spend a specified period alone on the land, during which time
they became men.
Both Cree and Inuit contributors said it
is currently a challenge to transmit their knowledge to young people, who now
learn primarily from being taught in classrooms and not from observing in the
outdoors. Today it is difficult for the young people to actively participate in
the full cycle of annual traditional activity, and they are unable to observe
the land-based activities of their parents during much of the school year.
Recent gun regulation laws are also having an impact on the transmission of
knowledge in that it is now illegal to use a gun until a gun registration
license is obtained at 18 years of age.
The Cree and Inuit contributors expressed regret that they had lost control of the education of their young to the Government of Canada. They also questioned what type of future their young would have if their knowledge fails to be adequately transmitted.
Schools are becoming increasingly active
in developing cultural programmes and engaging students in land-based activities.
Elders, hunters and women participate in these programmes and activities as
instructors. The traditional principles and methods of transmitting knowledge
also continue to be applied but under very different circumstances than two or
three generations ago.
The Hudson Bay TEKMS study produced a
volume of information that only scratches the surface of the great depth of
knowledge held by the IK contributors.
The IK was recorded on audio tapes that were translated and transcribed for the production of written documents and a hypertext database, which searches and links keywords in the original transcripts. It was also documented on a series of multi-layer map overlays for the generation of regional maps and a GIS system and database. The environmental concerns, observations and perspectives of several indigenous contributors were documented on videotape as well.
Achievements and results
The approach and methodology developed
for the study resulted in the active participation and commitment of a number of
indigenous communities and individuals living in a large, remote and sparsely
populated biogeographical region of Canada. It was community-based and
community-driven, which means that indigenous peoples were actively involved in
all aspects of the research process: design, development, compilation, synthesis
and the production of results. The combination of active participation and
involvement resulted in indigenous thinking and knowledge being integral to the
‘Voices from the Bay’ demonstrates
what small, isolated communities can achieve when they are given the opportunity
to contribute to identifying and understanding the ecological processes and
dynamics of the Hudson Bay ecosystem. This is a necessary prerequisite for
pursuing and practising sustainable development. From ‘Voices from the Bay’,
scientists and other interested persons have become aware of how weaker currents
are changing sea-ice regimes, of the departure of belugas whales from river
mouths that have become too shallow for moulting, of the sensitivity of sturgeon
to changing water quality and river diversions, and of the type of damage caused
by freshwater diversions. They have also learned that many environmental
indicators used by IK holders can no longer be relied upon for predicting the
weather and forecasting seasonal events, and they have read about how much the
Inuit and Cree peoples value and revere the natural world.
The Hudson Bay is referred to as ‘the black hole of Canada’ because so little is known about it despite its domination of the Canadian landscape. ‘Voices from the Bay’ is starting to fill this ‘black hole’ with the knowledge of its indigenous peoples who, in the words of one reviewer, clearly convey the fact that the Hudson Bay bioregion is ‘not the pristine and untouched wilderness of southern imagination.’
Although it is taking at least ten years
for ‘Voices from the Bay’ to reach its intended audiences, the initial work
is withstanding the test of time and proving itself a credible study. It shows
how traditional knowledge can complement scientific data for better
understanding of the environment and the effects of development. As a result,
the book is establishing a basis for indigenous leaders, government regulators,
public policy-makers, industrial decision-makers and scientists to seriously
consider the importance of 1) managing the effects of industrial development, 2)
protecting the Hudson and James Bay marine ecosystems, and 3) developing a
unified approach amongst the stakeholders for addressing the problems that will
arise from further increases in development activity over the next 25 years.
‘Voices from the Bay’ has been
sustainable, cost-effective and locally manageable for the past ten years,
resulting in the protection and safeguarding of proprietary knowledge. Local
peoples benefited from being employed for the study and from playing key roles
in its development and evolution. The younger Inuit and Cree involved in the
community meetings benefited from being exposed to and becoming aware of the
rich and detailed traditional ecological knowledge held by their elders. They
found a new pride and value in their culture, their elders, and the traditional
ways of life. The IK contributors benefit from knowing that their knowledge is
now considered important, and from having the opportunity to meet with their
peers to discuss matters of importance to them.
The activity surrounding the initial
study created some potential opportunities for local individuals. This potential
is not being realized, however. The situation would benefit from
capacity-building within the community, from adoption of a unified approach to
sustainable development of the bioregion, and from creation of new institutional
arrangements for monitoring and managing human activity in the bioregion.
Development of the two databases,
creation of a network for monitoring indigenous ecological knowledge, and the
training of local persons in how to access the databases, and compile,
synthesize and disseminate the information they contain, are four more areas
where the investment of capital and human resources in sustainable,
cost-effective initiatives could produce useful results. These possibilities
have not been properly explored yet for several reasons, however: the isolation
of the host community, the lack of genuine interest in the Hudson Bay on the
part of provincial and federal governments, and the lack of communication
amongst the stakeholders.
The study’s methodology is the strength of the practice. It has been replicated and improved upon since 1995. The semi-directed workshop/meeting format has the following advantages:
· Small groups of people can hold focused discussions on topical areas of interest. These generate considerable information and take into account a range of geographical, climatic, historical and cultural factors that an interviewer may not be aware of.
· Participants have the opportunity both to contribute and to learn from each other, thereby augmenting their own practical knowledge.
· The methodology can be used to document indigenous knowledge in cross-cultural settings and over large geographical areas. Contributors will question, verify and build upon the information provided by other contributors.
IK holders find meetings more interesting than
interviews because of the interaction and exchange of information that take
place within the group.
Another strength of the study is its
demonstration that traditional ecological knowledge can complement scientific
data. A potential advantage of this strength in the present case is that
indicators could be developed and baseline information collected for monitoring
changes in the Hudson Bay ecosystem which are not yet being measured by western
The practice has not been effectively communicated within the local communities so that community awareness and support are lacking. The practice could be developed further if its purpose and aims were reaffirmed, if resources were allocated to developing a database for disseminating information to targeted audiences, and if its tangible benefits were demonstrated to the participating communities.
Source of inspiration
It is imperative that the ecological knowledge of indigenous peoples be demonstrated and incorporated into environmental decision-making and sustainable development initiatives throughout the world.
The practice would be rather easy to
transfer because it is flexible and adaptive and based on listening, working
together, and learning by doing. Some adaptations might be necessary depending
on the subjects of inquiry, and the communication modes and availability of
computer hardware and software.
Features of the study’s methodology
have been replicated and refined in other parts of Nunavut by the South Baffin
Bowhead Whale Committee, the Government of Nunavut, Nunavut Tunngavik
Incorporated, and in Alaska for the Barrow Symposium of Sea Ice.
If you think that this case could be useful in a different context than the one described here, please get in touch first with the contact person listed below (Administrative data). Intellectual property rights could be an issue.
Additional remarks and information
Students enrolled in the three-year
Nunavut Teachers Education Programme in Sanikiluaq have incorporated information
from the ‘Voices from the Bay’ publication into their learning and planning
The Curriculum Division of the
Government of Nunavut’s Department of Education is examining the
publication’s usefulness for the design of senior secondary science curricula
on terrestrial systems, marine systems, climate systems and conservation.
There are many structural barriers in
place that impede development of the practice. The Environmental Committee is
limited in what it can achieve without more community support and new
partnerships, for example.
It is not an explicit objective of the IK practice to have a sustainable effect on poverty eradication and social exclusion. However, it is recognized and communicated when appropriate that the traditional ecological knowledge of the indigenous peoples of the Hudson Bay bioregion can contribute to eradicating poverty and creating a more promising future for young people if it is incorporated into the development of new political and economic systems that support and encourage its transmission. An excellent example of this would be the development of a community-based marine environmental quality monitoring system for the Hudson Bay.
Environmental Committee of the Municipality of Sanikiluaq
Sanikiluaq, Nunavut, Canada X0A 0W0
Tel.: +1 867 266 8929
Fax: +1867 266 8837
Mr Lucassie Arragutainaq
Sanikiluaq Hunters and Trappers Association
Sanikiluaq, Nunavut Canada X0A 0W0
Tel.: +1 867 2668709
Fax: +1 867 2668131
partner(s) involved in the practice
Mr Brian Fleming and Mr Zach Novalinga
The Honourable Peter Kattuk
Total budget (in US dollars): USD 545,000
Period to which the budget applies: 1992-95
Sources of funding: Private foundations, Government of Canada
Government of Nunavut, Regional Aboriginal Organizations, Public Utilities.
who have described this Best Practice
Environmental Committee, Municipality of Sanikiluaq, Canada
Tel.: +1 867 2668929, E-mail: email@example.com
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