Aklavik (AHTC)

Aklavik Elders' Traditional Knowledge, Climate Change and Community Health

The History of Our People

Aklavik means, “Where the bear was killed” in the Inuvialuktun language. Aklavik is located in the Mackenzie Delta area which is rich in wildlife, waterfowl, fish, trees, berries and other valuable natural resources. Aklavik is located close to the Richardson Mountain range to the west; and 113 kilometers north of Aklavik is the Beaufort Sea. Aklavik’s rich natural resources have made it a natural harvesting area for the Gwich’in and Inuvialuit who traditionally used and occupied this area for as long as their people can remember.

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The Inuvialuit and Gwich’in have relied on a subsistence based traditional economy for most of their history. The community of Aklavik was created in 1910 after the collapse of the whaling industry and depopulation of the original peoples due to introduced diseases. The Fur Trade became the primary economic activity that supported the growth of Aklavik during the early 1900s. Starting in the mid-20th century, the Canadian federal government began to invest in northern communities and encouraged people to move off the land into modern communities to access the health, education and other government services. In the early 1950s the federal government decided to relocate Aklavik mainly because its location in the delta had limitations on community growth and the area was prone to flooding. This resulted in the creation of Inuvik as a modern new northern community. The population of Aklavik was reduced substantially due to the creation of Inuvik but many Aklavik people remained mainly because the location was rich in wildlife, fish and other natural resources that sustained a traditional economy.

The move from a traditional based economy with reliance on the land and its resources to a modern wage employment economy brought many changes. Housing, food, education, health and welfare, governance, justice and all aspects of the traditional societies were impacted as these groups moved from their traditional ways to modern systems. Aboriginal political development increased after oil was discovered in the Beaufort-Delta Region in the late 1960s. After a long period of negotiations both the Inuvialuit and the Gwich’in settled land and resource land claim agreements with the federal government.

Project Summary – How We Are Leading the Way

We wished to gather traditional local knowledge from Inuvialuit and Gwich’in Elder’s on their observations and experiences possibly related to climate changes. We wanted to find out what the Elders and hunters are seeing first hand as a result of climate change so that the information gathered could help our community members to plan and manage their traditional harvesting and healthy traditional food consumption activities.

The question the project attempted to answer was:

What are our Elder’s and Hunter’s experiencing during their traditional harvesting activities that may be related to Climate Change?

The project involved the collection of traditional knowledge from Elders and hunters through face-to-face questionnaire surveys, interviews, group sessions, meetings and cultural activity observations. The traditional knowledge and cultural activities observed were recorded, analyzed and used to develop a database of traditional knowledge that community members can now use to help make informed decisions related to health, safety and wellness.

Some Key Findings

  • Spring comes earlier/melts faster (n=92)
  • Freeze up is later/longer to freeze (n=70)
  • Changes have been observed for the last 10 to 15 years (n=52)
  • Too much beaver now / making too many dams (n=138)
  • Lots of moose  in the Delta & Coast (n=126)
  • Not much caribou this year (n=93)
  • Weather is harder to predict (n=52)
  • Caribou are having a hard time to get food nowadays (n=78)
  • Birds are believed to be benefitting the most from climate change  (n= 31)

Capacity Building – Connecting the Guidance of the Past with the Needs of Today

  • Members of our research team gained skills and knowledge in scientific research data collection.
  • The participants and community members benefited from learning about and understanding how research is conducted and how it can contribute to broader management initiatives.
  • The project allowed our Elders and hunters to provide valuable traditional local knowledge to local and academic researchers.
  • The study helped increase awareness of healthy lifestyle behaviors, practices, and choices related to climate change.

Next Steps – How We Are Adapting to Climate Change

  • Local Community members need to adjust their travelling patterns.  Ex:   traditional way of going that route, the river is getting narrower or drying up.
  • Local Community members tend to buy more store bought foods…traditional foods are harder to get.
  • Learning to work with what we got…hard to predict what will happen.
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Community Profile

Region:
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Population:
633 (2011 Census)
Land Area:
14.47 sq km

Project Information

Years Funded:
Topic Area:
Contact:
Billy Archie/Jerome Gordon/Michelle Gruben, Aklavik Hunter’s & Trapper’s Committee (ahtc@airware.ca)

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