Bridging worlds: the Northern Research Knowledges Lab's collaborative approach to conservation in Canada's North

Published: 29 November 2023

As the Arctic wind whistles through Canada's northern wilderness, a unique collaboration is unfolding between scientists and Indigenous communities. Graduate and Postdoctoral students in the Northern Research Knowledges Lab, under the leadership of Dr. Murray Humphries, are redefining how scientific research is conducted.

Their mission is not just to study the rich biodiversity, nutrition, and environmental factors of the North but to do so while respecting and incorporating Indigenous knowledge. They recognize that there isn't just one way of understanding nature; multiple perspectives enrich the depth of their research.

From the expansive Yukon, where they study the impact of insect harassment on the Porcupine Caribou Herd, to the icy landscapes of the Northwest Territories, where shifting ice conditions affect migratory pathways, their work spans a vast range of locations and subjects.

In Nunavut, students in this lab are delving into how communities can harvest the abundant white geese more effectively for sustenance. Simultaneously, in Nunavik, they're tracking the movement of walruses and belugas, unravelling the secrets of these marine animals' lives.

Their innovative techniques are striking. In Northern Quebec, they're collaborating with the Cree community on a forestry project aimed at moose conservation. They're tracking moose movements using radio collars, some even capturing "moose-eye" videos that offer a unique glimpse into these majestic creatures' lives.

Down in James Bay, other lab members are examining eelgrass decline and its impact on waterfowl. Their research also includes studying the most southerly population of polar bears globally, using non-invasive methods to respect the Cree community's wishes not to disturb these magnificent animals.

The lab's work is vital in bridging the gap between Indigenous communities and scientific researchers. Their collaborative approach ensures Indigenous knowledge guides their research and recovery plans, something that is particularly evident in their work with the Peary caribou, one of Canada's most endangered caribou sub-populations.

In essence, the Northern Research Knowledges Lab's work is a testament to the power of collaboration for conserving Canada's Northern biodiversity. Their respectful partnership with Indigenous communities ensures their research is both informed and impactful, contributing to the preservation of these unique ecosystems for generations to come.

[Image caption: Field assistant and wildlife monitor, LeeJohn Meyook of Aklavik, NWT, takes weather recordings as the Porcupine Caribou herd migrates through the Richardson Mountains in the Yukon. In Summer 2023, LeeJohn collaborated in the field with Northern Research Knowledges Lab Master's student Will Hein, who is studying the interaction between harassing insects and this caribou herd.]

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