Project Summary – How We Are Leading the Way
This project builds upon an existing project funded by the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council of Canada (SSHRC) which was carried out in the Inuit communities of Clyde River and Qikiqtarjuaq, Nunavut, titled the “Arnait Project: Inuit Women and Subsistence: Social and Environmental Change”. The purpose of the research was to conduct an on–the-land retreat, bringing together women from Clyde River and Qikiqtarjuaq to share their research, experiences, and knowledge. The entire retreat was based on traditional knowledge; Elders taking charge of project planning and the design of retreat activities. The retreat allowed women from both communities to share and discuss their own observations of social and environmental change, as well as strategies for adapting and capacity building.
- On-the-land-retreat for women from Clyde River and Qikiqtarjuaq to share knowledge and support each other in responding to the impacts of climate change.
- Discuss concerns and challenges with regards to health issues, specifically those related to climate change (food security, health of food resources, access to healthy foods, safety on the land)
- Discuss emotional health (stress that comes with changing environment) and strategies to keep families safe
- In the long term the retreat will aim to help create a support network between the two communities in discussing and responding to climate change and health impacts.
Summary of Findings
One of the very interesting findings of the retreat was learning the women’s approach to linking climate change and health. Their retreat workshop topics reflect this with discussions such as ‘How to be a good person’ and ‘what we should be teaching young girls’. In order to be resilient to both environmental and social changes, we need to be strong women. We need to be strong and healthy people, and strong and healthy families. To adapt to any changes we face in our community, society, culture, and environment, the core of who we are needs to be healthy. And so the land retreat was critical, to give women that dedicated time to reflect, have personal meditation time, connect with each other, and connect across communities. One might not think that “Being a good person” would fit within a climate change centred project, but it is precisely by being a good, healthy person, in a healthy community, that we will be able to deal with any change that comes our way. It was this core belief that created the foundation for the women’s design of the retreat.
This understanding of climate change and health provides an overall context for the more specific information we were able to collect during the one-week research activities on the retreat and back at the community. One set of data we were able to collect relates to the resources that women need in their lives and how they share resources among each other and within the community. This information is critical to our larger SSHRC project that is trying to understand sharing networks among women. We collected very detailed information about women’s family members, what resources they share, what resources they require, and how they spend their time. The data show that it takes women piecing together a wide variety of resources to support their families.
In our surveys to women about their observations of climate changes, an interesting finding (though not unexpected) was that women ages 16-20 and 21-30 did not have many observations about changes in the environment, in animal condition (working with meat or skins), and remarked that they do not go out often or that men would be better to ask. Women ages 41 and over, however, did have several observations about the changing conditions of animals and of the environment. These women are more likely to go on the land, and also some spent their childhood on the land so have a greater understanding and context about environmental changes.
Capacity Building – Connecting the Guidance of the Past with the Needs of Today
We found the land retreat to be an excellent means for sharing knowledge and gathering information. Having the women choose discussion topics and lead discussion groups (full groups or pairs) allowed them to identify and explore information that the researchers would otherwise not know about. The collaboration and day-to-day chores needed in order to run the camp were important in creating trust and bonds between women, and the camp setting was a powerful means to set up the support networks that we were aiming for (as opposed to simply having an indoor workshop in a conference room). The women got to know each other through camp work, sharing tents, and preparing food. The network was a success as we know that several of the women have kept in regular touch since the retreat and have contacted each other to participate in subsequent workshops and training opportunities.
Next Steps – How We Are Adapting to Climate Change
Responding to any kind of change takes time, and adapting to environmental change is no different. The retreat set the groundwork for women to share ideas about strengthening their communities through more research, projects, and initiatives with youth. For example the women suggested that another retreat be held and this time involved girls, so they can learn the knowledge of Elders and become part of the support system being developed. Again, the philosophy of the women is not to develop a static plan, but rather to strengthen individuals, over time and through many means, in order to be adaptive people and able to handle any changes that come their way.