Inuit & Research

The story of Inuit and research is the story of a people resolute and resilient in the face of change. It is also the story of how the Canadian Arctic research landscape was changed by a people.

A people resilient in the face of change

For thousands of years, Inuit and their ancestors have thrived in the Arctic. The Canadian Inuit homeland known as Inuit Nunangat extends from the Mackenzie Delta in the west to the Labrador coast in the east, and from the Hudson’s Bay coast to the islands of the High Arctic.

Today, Inuit continue to maintain their unique culture within their distinct homeland. Despite modern influences and tragic acts of colonization including relocation, residential schools, and the targeted slaughter of sled dogs, Inuit have retained their language, core knowledge and beliefs, and Inuit heritage, history, and knowledge has been maintained through traditions, storytelling, and legends.

To learn more, check out the About Inuit page.

A changing research landscape

The Canadian Arctic has long been a place of intrigue and fascination from outsiders. From the Norse in the early 2nd millennia and whalers in the 1700s, to explorers seeking to discover the famed Northwest Passage in the 1800s and researchers throughout the International Polar Years (1882-1883, 1932-1933, 1957-1958, and 2007-2009), many have been intrigued by the Arctic and its people. The relationship dynamics between non-Inuit (Qallunaat) and Inuit means that, historically, most of the (mis)information disseminated to the world about Inuit and their land has been written and communicated by outsiders for their own gain and benefit, not for and by Inuit.

While there is much material written about Inuit as the subjects of research, there is a lack of scholarship recognizing Inuit as researchers in their own right. Inuit have always been involved in research in some capacity: Inuit knowledge has been developed over a long period of time as a result of Inuit experience and interaction with the land, whether through trial and error and motivated by survival or careful years of observation. While Inuit research and ways of knowing may take on different forms than those of Western scientific research and knowledge, they yield an equal amount of integrity; in fact, as both bodies of knowledge continue to evolve they inevitably converge in many places.

It wasn't until more recently, towards the end of the 20th century and during a time of growing Inuit political consciousness, that we start to see Inuit demanding more involvement in the production of Arctic knowledge and a shift from research on Inuit to research with Inuit and, now, to research by and for Inuit.

Today Inuit are scientists, research advisors, geographic information system (GIS) specialists, community monitors, oral historians, policy analysts, scholars, and experts in cultural heritage management. Most recently, as a result of settled land claim agreements, some Inuit regions and communities are building better capacity and assume more control over research policy ensuring initiatives benefit Inuit interests.

The development of Inuit-specific research centres, programs and processes such as research licensing and the Inuit Research Advisor positions point to a promising future for Inuit involvement in research. However, a lot of work still remains to be done so that Inuit contributions are valued, and Inuit ways of conducting research and observations are credited much the same as other forms of research. 

It is also important to ensure that Inuit have the necessary resources and infrastructure to respond to the ever increasing global interest in the Arctic, and to ensure that Inuit interests are respected and incorporated in all aspects of research.

To learn more check out some additional resources and for additional information on upcoming events and deadlines related to research please check out our calendar.