The following appeared in the Friday January 21, 2011 edition of Yukon News.
By Roxanne Stasyszyn
Meagan Perry/Yukon News
Northern science used to treat Arctic aboriginal people as specimens to be studied, just the same as caribou and polar bears, says Bob Van Dijken.
Now, First Nations are telling the scientists what to look at.
The International Polar Year is a study of the Arctic. It has happened approximately every 50 years since the 1880s in most circumpolar nations, including Russia, Norway, Canada and the United States.
The fourth started in 2007 and still has a few projects to complete.
It could be the last.
“It’s over,” says Van Dijken, the Yukon International Polar Year co-ordinator.
The International Polar Year is out of money and securing support for a fifth round doesn’t look good, Van Dijken says.
But in Old Crow, the hope is to leave the community with tools they need to keep doing important scientific monitoring, says Van Dijken,
This is not an obligation of the researchers, but after working and living with people in Old Crow for the last few summers, they have made it a priority.
The numerous projects in the small, isolated community of Vuntut Gwitch’in are on the forefront of the change that has happened in northern research, says Van Dijken.
It has largely been unheard of to have the community point out areas of priority and actually sit down to write the proposals for the projects together with the researchers, he says.
“They were always considered part of the landscape,” Van Dijken says of northerners in past IPY projects.
But that community-driven instruction and collaboration is exactly what happened in Old Crow.
“It’s a generational change,” says former Vuntut Gwitch’in First Nation chief Joe Linklater, adding the change has happened on both sides: researchers who are starting to recognize what northerners can bring to their studies and enthusiastic First Nation youth who want to find answers.
Many of the most recent IPY projects in Old Crow focus around climate change and the effects it has on the Vuntut’s traditional territory and way of life.
They cover things from tree rings that prove the drastic disparities in climate, to the desperate search for answers about why lakes in the Old Crow Flats have started to dry up and disappear.
However, there was one project in the remote community that did focus its research on the people themselves.
Old Crow was compared to Tuktoyaktuk, Northwest Territories, by Gabrielle Slowey, a political science professor from York University. The goal was to examine the differences between a northern community engulfed by the oil and gas industry to one that has largely refused exploration.
But the result turned into a comparison of the wellbeing of the people of a self-governing First Nation versus a non self-governing First Nation in the North.
Self government is necessary for a healthy North, her findings show.
Going even further, Ottawa needs to change its priority of Arctic sovereignty to human security which, she argues, goes hand in hand with self governance.
Human security is a term Slowey champions, despite letters from the Prime Minister’s Office telling her to stop, she says.
“There is no precise definition of human security,” she says. “Just like there is no precise definition of self government. It depends on the community and their needs.”
In essence, human security means the wellbeing of the people. Are they fed, housed and happy? And how well can they sustain this lifestyle?
As an abrupt end of a discussion with Linklater at a conference down south, Slowey was invited to visit Yukon’s northernmost community to “see for herself,” she says.
Those visits changed the project’s focus, she says.
The Vuntut Gwitch’in First Nation’s land management is more environmentally sustainable and respectful of the natural world, she says.
Its sustainability is directly related to its ability to make the decisions and control its own development.
She presented her findings at an IPY workshop in Whitehorse on Tuesday.
She was flying from Whitehorse to Yellowknife Wednesday morning to give her input on the current devolution negotiations in the NWT.
“Get self government in place and then have devolution,” she says. “Otherwise, they’re just going to turn the battle from First Nations to the federal government to battles between to the territorial government and the communities.”
And with First Nations recognized as a government, they are less plagued by the paternalistic ignorance from Ottawa.
“I think the best thing that any federal, provincial or territorial government can do when it comes to making decisions in the north is ask northerners, ‘What do you think we should do?’” says Linklater. “I wouldn’t want to hand over the future of my young people to somebody who lives in Ottawa who doesn’t really give a shit about us. There’s no impact on them. Five o’clock they go home. We’re living with the decisions they make. At the end of the day, the person who makes the decision goes to sleep in the Yukon. They live with it 24/7. And, at the end of the day, we’re way further ahead and I think we are envied by a big part of the country for what we’ve accomplished in the Yukon.”
The criticisms of self-governing First Nations are widespread.
Insufficient capacity, lack of resources, cronyism, corruption – the list goes on. And Slowey adds to it, rolling her eyes.
“These are new governments, they are junior, they are learning the ropes and they are all stumbling out of the starting block. They have to be allowed to fail, to learn,” she says. “Have you been in downtown Toronto? We all have alcoholics. We have very corrupt political leaders. None of our leaders are immune from scandal, and yet we expect these aboriginal communities to be these perfect microcosms of government and that’s unfair.”
Unless the critique is constructive, it has no place – no matter who is footing the bill, she says, noting if Canadians actually calculated the royalties owed to First Nations for developing resources, “it’s a small chuck of change,” she says.
If you go back to the original agreements and establishment of Indian and Northern Affairs, the Crown of England recognized First Nations as the owners of the land, Linklater says.
They called themselves the trustees. Self-governance is really just First Nations taking back over that responsibility, he says.
We have become much healthier since we’ve taken back control of our land and ourselves, he adds, pointing out real failure exists in the pockets of reserve land Ottawa created.
“It’s not like you have to grow up in Southern Canada in order to be able to govern. We’ve been governing as Gwitch’in ourselves for over 30,000 years and nothing has changed,” says Linklater. “Why do we have to prove ourselves?”
Findings from 19 researchers, conducting 14 different projects in Yukon were presented to more than 160 people in Whitehorse this week.
They will also be included in a large, international conference in April 2012.
The conference is being called Knowledge to Action, and will represent the end of the International Polar Year.
Looking to the future, Van Dijken looks to Old Crow.
“While it is ending I think we’re seeing glimmers of hope,” he says. “In designing things so communities can continue this work.”
Contact Roxanne Stasyszyn at
The following appeared in the Friday, February 25, 2011 edition of Y-File:
For two weeks in January, two York professors bundled into parkas and flew to Arctic villages along the proposed Mackenzie Valley pipeline. They were delivering valuable cargo – the results of their International Polar Year (IPY) research.
Reporting back to the communities was a condition of receiving IPY research funding in 2007, and after three years ecologist Dawn Bazely and political scientist Gabrielle Slowey were ready to deliver. When the two arrived by bush plane, citizens in Fort Simpson and Inuvik crowded into local meeting halls to hear them. Some had helped do the research, all were curious to hear the results.
Right: Dawn Bazely in a plane back to Yellowknife from Fort Simpson
“They were never going to read a report. They need to hear things orally,” says Bazely, director of York’s Institute for Research & Innovation in Sustainability.
Bazely led the Canadian component of an IPY project called Gas, Arctic Peoples & Security (GAPS), investigating the effect of oil and gas development on northern communities. She oversaw teams of natural and social scientists investigating invasive plant species, housing security and homelessness, mental health services and the advantages of self-governance in indigenous communities in the Yukon and Northwest Territories.
“What was really unique about our program was no other had natural and social scientists working so closely in tandem from the beginning,” said Slowey. Oil and gas was the context, human security or the well-being of these communities was the framework. The collaboration worked really well and achieved real results, she said.
Above: Gabrielle Slowey in front of the igloo church, Our Lady of Victory, an Inuvik landmark
Normally, denizens of these northern communities pay little heed as scientists from the south come and go, and never return to share their findings, says Bazely. This time they were all ears. The research offers them a glimpse of what is in store for them and ways they can deal with change. “It’s empowering,” she says.
Slowey agrees. “We’re not just taking knowledge away, we’re giving it back and helping them.” She also presented her findings in Whitehorse.
For the past three years, Slowey has been comparing the ability of self-governing versus non-self-governing indigenous communities to cope with change wrought by oil and gas development and exploration. After surveying residents, community leaders and industry officials, she found self-governing communities, such as Old Crow, have more control over what happens to them. They can make their own decisions and negotiate directly with the territorial government over oil and gas development. Non-self-governing communities such as Tuktoyaktuk must deal with multiple levels of government to get anything done. “Self-government removes all those layers and gives more local empowerment.”
Left: Gabrielle Slowey
After her presentations in Whitehorse and Inuvik, people in communities such as Pelee Crossing, Yukon, and Sachs Harbour, Northwest Territories (NWT), sought Slowey’s advice on how to proceed given mining exploration or oil exploration occurring in their area. “I highlighted not just onshore but offshore oil and gas development. It’s going to be huge.”
Folks in the NWT were also curious about the potential impact of devolution (downloading of jurisdiction from Ottawa to the territories) on their self-government agreements and future development. It’s a hot topic in the North and Slowey has pointed out in newspaper editorials how Ottawa bureaucrats are ill-prepared to make decisions about the North because they have no understanding of what life is like for the people who live there.
Moreover, she says, “we tend to think of people in the North as victims of policy instead of agents of change. I’m telling them they’re on the right track by pursuing self-government.” Do it now, she’s saying, before the territorial government embraces devolution. Yet it’s not so easy, as local indigenous leaders scramble to keep up as Ottawa keeps changing the rules of the game.
Over the past three years, Bazely and her students have looked for evidence of invasive plant species in settlements from Fort Simpson, gateway to the Nahanni and home of the caribou, north to Norman Wells, Fort Good Hope and Inuvik. Oil and gas exploration and development has brought outsiders to the area and with them a foreign fungus that has infected the grass that caribou eat. Not good news for people whose diet depends on caribou meat. Bazely advised communities to revegetate the ground along the pipelines and roads with local seeds, not imported seeds. Doing so could lead to local – and sustainable – business opportunities, she told Northern News Services in Fort Simpson.
Above: The frozen Mackenzie River
The GAPS research projects will be published in peer-reviewed academic journals, presented at conferences and spawn graduate theses, says Bazely. But the best value, she believes, comes from sharing it directly with local policy-makers and citizens.
By March, IPY research will be completed and next year the results will be shared at a Montreal conference, From Knowledge to Action.
Bazely is editing a book, Environmental Change and Human Security in the Arctic, to which Slowey is contributing a chapter. By this fall, Slowey expects to finish editing a book, Rethinking Public Policy in the Northwest Territories, highlighting each of the Canadian GAPS subprojects.
The biologist and political scientist have embraced the IPY imperative to report back to the communities. They plan to share their IPY research findings with indigenous groups in northern Ontario and local groups in Pennsylvania, who are faced with shale-gas development.
By Martha Tancock, YFile contributor
The following article was taken from Northern News Services Online.
Research project examines changes new pipelines could bring to region
Northern News Services
Published Thursday, January 27, 2011
LIIDLII KUE/FORT SIMPSON – Non-indigenous plant species have a foothold in the Mackenzie Valley and more are expected to arrive as new transportation routes and pipelines are built in the region according to a research project.
Dawn Bazely, an associate professor of biology at York University, was in Fort Simpson from Jan. 13 to 16 to report on the findings of a project that was carried out in 2008.
Biologist Dawn Bazely, left, discusses the findings of a research project on non-indigenous plant species in the Mackenzie Valley with Fort Simpson residents Pam FitzRoy and Teresa Chilkowich. – Roxanna Thompson/NNSL photo
That summer, Bazely and two colleagues visited four communities along the proposed route of the Mackenzie Gas Project to look for the presence of non-indigenous plant species along roadsides and other transportation routes.
The research was part of a larger study called GAPS (Gas, Arctic Peoples and Security) that examined the affects of oil and gas industries on people in the Arctic. Part of the International Polar Year, GAPS was conducted by researchers in Canada, Russia and Norway.
For her section of GAPS Bazely focused on how ecosystems might change along pipeline routes, particularly with the movement of non-indigenous plant species into the North.
The research will provide a baseline to measure future changes against, she said.
As they expected, the team found that Fort Simpson — their first study point — had a higher number of non-indigenous plant species compared to Norman Wells, Fort Good Hope and Inuvik.
This isn’t surprising because Fort Simpson is the most southerly, has the most forgiving climate and has many routes in including roads and a pre-existing pipeline, Bazely said.
Most of the species found in the village were in gardens and along roadsides. Those on the roadside have yet to creep into the bush.
“As things warm inevitably they’ll spread,” Bazely said.
Most non-indigenous species come and invade and don’t have negative impacts, said Bazely. Inevitably, however, some species will arrive that do.
The team did find a fungus they were looking for that lives in some grasses eaten by animals.
Because the fungus was in higher concentrations along the roadways the team suspects it came up in southern seed mixes.
If ingested, the fungus can make animals sick. The findings support the need for local seed material to be used on reseeding projects, she said.
Bazely cautioned that the issue of non-indigenous plants isn’t black and white but is more value based.
People do benefit from a lot of introduced species including food plants like potatoes, she said.
As part of their research the territorial government asked the team to also examine how residents might want to identify new species.
There were a lot of opinions on the subject, Bazely said.
“People were interested in participating and learning about and motoring for newly arrived species,” she said.
The team is producing a report for the government on on invasive species planning. Some of the other findings from the project will be published in scientific journals.
Bazely said she was pleased to be able to return to the North to share the findings with the communities that were studied.
In preparation for the upcoming IPY results workshops in Whitehorse and Inuvik, we have prepared the following GAPS Project Results Summary.
This research initiative, entitled Negotiating Change: Community-Based Mental Health and Addiction Practice in the Northwest Territories of Canada set out to explore how community mental health and addictions practitioners in the Northwest Territories (NWT) experience and respond to rapid socio-economic change in their professional practice. Qualitative in nature, the research consisted of personal interviews with 15 community-based mental health and addictions practitioners (counselors and a paraprofessional role called the community wellness worker) throughout the territory. As the front-line service providers who work in the NWT-wide Community Counselling Program (CCP), these practitioners were considered to have special access and insight into community life and trends in health and wellness.
Findings drawn from the thematic analysis of these interviews were categorized into three groups: (1) practitioner expressions of external changes related to the communities they serve, (2) internal changes related to the structure and function of mental health and addiction services in the NWT, and (3) practitioner views on what is needed for the future related to mental health and addictions services in light of all of these changes. Within these three categories, several key findings were identified as significant.
In brief, external community-related findings included practitioner reflections on changes in substance use patterns in northern communities, changes in community attitudes towards abuse disclosure, and the impacts of economic booms on people with mental health and substance use issues. Findings of an internal organizational nature included practitioner reflections on how recent changes to the way mental health and addiction services are structured and delivered to communities has impacted their work. Findings related to practitioner-identified needs for the future include the need for choice and flexibility in how services are delivered and the need for trauma-specific training and referral options.
In the discussion of the research findings, three key lessons were considered. These lessons focus on how social and economic changes affect NWT mental health and addictions practitioners and how to best move forward in light of these changes. A brief synopsis of this discussion is presented here:
Lesson #1: Social and Economic Change Affects Mental Health and Addictions in Northern Communities
An important lesson drawn from the research is that social and economic change is not always negative and that community experiences of change do not necessarily affect people in the same way. Practitioners’ observations of community changes with respect to substance use patterns, social norms around abuse disclosure and the effects of economic booms were a combination of positive and negative insights on changes taking place in community that affects their practice. Practitioners indicated that the issues are much more nuanced and may occur at the individual rather than community level. These are the most tangible expressions of rapid social and economic change on community mental health and addictions.
As well as these specific examples of change at the community level, almost all of the practitioners interviewed emphasized that unresolved pain or trauma is a root cause of problematic substance use or addictions. Practitioners did not explicitly make the connection between rapid social and economic change and their observations of trauma. However, other researchers have made this theoretical link, suggesting that trauma in the Canadian Indigenous context stems from the rapid culture change, cultural oppression, and social marginalization. Practitioners’ observations of trauma can be more clearly understood when related to the phenomenon of rapid change and its impact on mental health and addictions practice in this way.
Lesson #2: Internal Organizational Changes are an Expression of Socio-Economic Change and Affect Practitioner Interactions with Community
Overshadowing the discussion of socio-economic change, at times, was the emphasis many practitioners placed on internal organizational change. This discussion was related to the structure and function of mental health and addiction services and the effect these organizational changes have had on their practice. The focus on internal organizational issues demonstrates the significant impact that policy has on practice. It also suggests practitioners’ experience on the job is more a product of the workplace environment than the community environment. While outside forces of change may greatly impact their clients, it is practitioners’ interactions with internal organizational change that really shapes their experiences as helping professionals. This is perhaps because internal organizational changes, such as restructuring of programs and services, are so much closer to them and their “real lives” than some of the larger system changes brought about by shifts in the social and economic landscape. Practitioners are directly affected by these sorts of changes, so they are the ones that first come to mind as influencing practice when asked about change.
Practitioner discussions of organizational change reveal how standardizing mental health and addiction services changes the role of the practitioner vis-à-vis the community. Prior to the implementation of the Community Counseling Program across the NWT, practitioners carried out their counseling and wellness work as part of NGOs and community councils. Under the community-run system, some communities were very well served while others did not have adequate services in place. In recent years, the GNWT has achieved their goal of creating a standardized mental health and addiction program across the territory by assuming the role of service provider in place of the community-run services. By standardizing this front-line occupation the GNWT has placed boundaries on this role, which practitioners conceived in both positive and negative ways. Internal organizational change, it seems, is having just as much of a mixed effect on practitioners as external community changes are having on northern residents.
These days, practitioners must navigate two worlds. They must be bureaucrats, meeting set standards and regulations. Yet, to be effective, they must also gain the trust of clients by engaging in the community life. Performing the role of bureaucrat too well may prove a handicap in meeting community needs. Practitioners also emphasized the critical importance of earning the community’s trust and respect. They saw this as the foundation of effective counseling in the north. This view is consistent with research conducted on health care provision in other northern Canadian Aboriginal communities. It follows then that practitioners take every opportunity to establish themselves, giving people a chance to get to know them. In the northern Aboriginal community context, this means being visible at community events and in some cases, making unsolicited house calls. Given the importance of trust and cultural competency in the effective delivery of health and social services to northern communities, should we not be doing everything we can to get our mental health and addiction professionals integrated into community life? Mental health and addiction services can be professionally and accountably delivered, but also responsive and sensitive to the unique traditions and context of life in small communities in the north.
Lesson #3: There are Ways to Move Forward Together
The community counseling program may be a government invention, but there are ways for NWT communities to make it their own. Practitioners spoke of the need for more local involvement in community-based service delivery; several mentioning how they would like to see more local people trained as counselors. They also see room for greater community direction in terms of how services are structured and delivered, such as the inclusion of more on-the-land type of activities. Together, these findings create a picture of a system that is looking for more community engagement.
Comments made by practitioners indicate that in addition to helping professionals who are local to the community they serve, those from elsewhere also have important roles to play. A diversity of practitioners is valuable in terms of providing residents with options as to who they can interact with. It is also necessary given the current paucity of skilled helping professionals from the smaller communities. This mixed workforce needs to be supported to (1) increase the cultural competency of those who are not indigenous to the communities they serve, and (2) continue their professional development so that eventually, those working in a paraprofessional community wellness worker role might be equipped to take on more counselling responsibilities. The goal of greater Aboriginal leadership in these areas of healing was a goal expressed several times by participants in this research as the only long-term solution to the constant issue of staff-turnover.
To be relevant and effective, the community counseling program also needs to take into consideration local culture and context. This sentiment was expressed repeatedly by practitioners interviewed for this thesis. Improvements will be seen in a practitioners’ familiarity with emerging issues in their communities and their ability to outreach to a variety of residents if they are encouraged to have a flexible work environment. This includes being able to meet people on their own terms, at a variety of different locations, at a variety of times throughout the day. This also could mean providing more cultural competency training for those individuals working in northern communities who are not Indigenous to the region so that they can better understand the social and historical context of they are working in.
This is a brief summary of findings and discussions emerging from the IPY GAPS Negotiating Change study. For more information on this research initiative, or to request a complete copy of the Masters thesis from which this research synopsis was extracted, please contact Alana Kronstal at email@example.com
Please see the newsletter.
Our fourth newsletter has now been released. It features:
- Negotiating Change: Community-Based Mental Health and Addiction Practice in NWT
- Conferences & Presentations: Learn about where and when the IPY GAPS team has been presenting!
- Sub-project Updates: The latest developments in GAPS research projects
- Ecojustice & Adaptation: An emerging network of activists, First Nations, and academics from the Global North and South
- International GAPS: News from our Norwegian and Russian GAPS colleagues.
Our third newsletter has now been released. It features:
- Evolution of GAPS: Community consultations change the course of the project
- Team Workshop: What exactly is Human Security?
- Sub-project Updates: Find out what the GAPS researchers have been doing in NWT
- Interdisciplinary Research: Using human security to manage invasive nonindigenous plants
- Conferences: Researchers have attended many conferences – get the scoop on what they presented and where!
- Major Events: Ecojustice Conference at York University, and Our North/ Our Future Youth Workshop in Tuktoyaktuk, NWT.
This past summer, Gunhild Hoogensen gave a keynote presentation to the 14th International Congress on Circumpolar Health in Yellowknife, NT. Affiliated student researchers Julia Christensen and Alana Kronstal also presented their GAPS research at the congress while GAPS and IRIS web coordinator Rajiv Rawat served on the organizing committee and secretariat. An audio podcast of Gunhild’s speech is available here.
In November, Gabrielle Slowey will be heading up a panel discussion around Oil and Development at the Northern Governance Policy Research Conference, also in Yellowknife. Julia and Alana will also present, along with Yellowknife-based GAPS researcher Jessica Simpson. Rajiv is also part of the secretariat for this conference through his continuing work with the Institute for Circumpolar Health Research in Yellowknife.
Strengthening the Ecojustice Movement:
How Will Disenfranchised Peoples Adapt to Climate Change?
April 16-17, 2009
April 16th – Founders Assembly Hall
April 17th – The Underground
Community activists and activist scientists from Brazil, India, South Africa, and Arctic Canada will share stories of local vulnerabilities to climate change, and discuss strategies for addressing inequities in climate change causation, mitigation, funding, and education.
Sponsored by Environment Canada, International Polar Year, York International, Faculty of Environmental Studies, York University, & IRIS
- Download the event poster (pdf)
For more information please contact the conference coordinators:
Phone: 416-736-2100 ext 33631
347 York Lanes, York University
4700 Keele Street
Toronto, Ontario, M3J 1P3
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