North West River, Nunatsiavut

Traditional Knowledge: A Blueprint for Change

Community Profile: The History of North West River

North West River (formerly known as Fort Smith) is a small sub-arctic community of 553 people (approximately 82% identify as Aboriginal, primarily Inuit) located in central Labrador and situated on the northern shore of Lake Melville, 35 km north-east of Goose Bay. The town has over 260 years of documented history and has been occupied by Labrador’s Innu and Inuit for at least 4,000 years. In the mid-1700s, Europeans made their way to the area to avail themselves of the abundant wildlife in the area. North West River was the location for a year-round trading post that was established by French fur trader Louis Fornel in 1743 and was also a location for a Hudson’s Bay Trading Post in later years.

The community of NWR has a university-run research centre, a municipal library and K-12 school, and has year-round road access to the community of Goose Bay, which has a modern all-year airport. Much of the marine shipping, (freight, fuel, etc.), to and from Labrador, passes through Lake Melville. A potential uranium mine, located approximately 100 km to the north, has recently been identified for possible development, and current company plans call for a road to be developed through NWR to accommodate the shipment of yellow cake to market (Aurora Energy 2008).

Project Summary: How Sivunivut is leading the Way

In 2009, Sivunivut Inuit Community Corporation Inc, which represents the Labrador Inuit Land Claims Agreement (LILCA) beneficiaries in North West River, approached the Labrador Institute (LI) to see if they were interested in collaborating on a community-based research project in North West River; which would collect and preserve knowledge of Inuit residents that could be used to develop climate change adaptation plans in the future. 

From this request, the Traditional Knowledge: A Blueprint for Change Project was conceived and directed by Sivunivut Inuit Community Corporation (Sivunivut), working in partnership with the Labrador Institute (LI) and was jointly funded by Health Canada’s First Nation and Inuit Health Branch and the MITACS Accelerate program. The overall goal of the Project was to train Inuit residents of North West River, Labrador to collect and map the ecological knowledge of other Inuit in the community and record their observations of on-going landscape transformations in the Lake Melville-Grand Lake region.

Overall the project successfully attained its two main objectives:

  1. Training community members in research methods, surveying, data management, and project planning and by
  2. Creating a GIS database that can be used by Sivunivut immediately to produce media (e.g. posters, maps, website, etc.) for community members regarding characteristics such as safe and unsafe ice conditions, travel routes, and sensitive habitats.

Next Steps – How We Are Adapting to Climate Change

More detailed look into what future plans are underway in the continuation of the GIS database developed during Traditional Knowledge: A Blueprint for Change Project.


Stage I will include the collection and incorporation of local place names into the GIS database.

Stage II of Sivunivut’s research plan is detailed data collection. It will involve two primary tasks: detailed interviews, and fieldwork. The goal will be to record additional environmental observations about the locations/areas that are most significant to the community as well as stories about events that have occurred there. The second task will be to visit these sites and record detailed environmental characteristics using techniques such as photography, videography, art, stories, music, field notes, etc.

Stage III will see these locations monitored over a number of years. By recording the environmental characteristic on a regulated schedule (e.g. bi‐annually for ten years) Sivunivut will create a long‐term record of the physical transformations at each location and the impact of these transformations on the community.

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

Knowledge exchange between scientists and community researchers helped extend both ways of knowing by sharing tools and understandings to build on each others knowledge systems.

Training community members in:

  • Project management and planning
  • Learning survey methodology
  • Use of computer software (Word, Excel, Google Earth)
  • Data management and task-tracking
  • Presentation skills (via Program Results Workshop in Ottawa 2011)

Researchers were privy to:

  • Teachings on local hunting, trapping, and travelling on the land techniques
  • Learning about the locations of important resources and routes for the community
  • Traditional ecological knowledge of the region, and the significance of the land and the resources to the Inuit of North West River
  • Hearing about the changes that the Elders had witnessed over their lifetime, as well as their views on why these changes have occurred.

Next Steps – How We Are Adapting to Climate Change

The initial scope for the project was quickly deemed unfeasible in the given timeframe of one year. From this realisation, the project was broken down into a multi-year research plan with clear achievable objectives, which will allow Sivunivut, and the community of North West River, to document, in detail, the existing ecological knowledge of the community, monitor and record ecological transformations as they manifest, and eventually develop an adaptation plan for the community.

Through the completion of the Traditional Knowledge: A Blueprint for Change Project, Sivunivut concluded that several additional data collection steps were required to continuously improve the GIS database developed in phase I. A three stage multi-year plan was developed and is currently being implemented. Stage I focuses on collection and incorporation of local place names into the GIS database; Stage II on detailed data collection on specified locations from Stage I; and Stage III will involve the continuous monitoring of the indentified locations.

This knowledge will be extremely valuable to the community of North West River as they move forward and adapt to transformations in the local climate and ecology. Many of the research outcomes will also benefit other communities who are coming to terms with transformations in the environment, but lack details on the impacts of specific transformations.

Project Team

This Project was a collaboration between Sivunivut and the LI. The following personnel made up the Project team:

  • Ed Tuttauk, Chairperson, Sivunivut – Project Manager
  • Keith Chaulk, Director, Labrador Institute – Project Executive
  • Scott Neilsen, Program Coordinator, Labrador Institute – Project Co-ordinator
  • Herman Anderson, Researcher, Sivunivut – Community Researcher
  • Billy Edmunds, Researcher, Sivunivut – Community Researcher
  • Jennifer Butler, Program Coordinator, Labrador Institute – Project Reviewer
  • Bryn Wood, Nunatsiavut Government – GIS specialist
  • Beatrice Dickers, Labrador Institute – Administrative Staff Specialist

Community Profile

553 (2011 Census)
Land Area:
3.20 sq km

Project Information

Years Funded:
Topic Area:
Ed Tuttauk, Sivunivut Inuit Community Corporation ([email protected])

Map Location