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The Study of Inuit Knowledge of Climate Change in Nunavik, Quebec: A Mixed Methods Approach

Abstract

We address first, the lack of documented indigenous knowledge of climate change in Nunavik, Quebec, regarding impacts on plants; and second, the frequent underutilization of indigenous knowledge in decision making and policy. Our study of three communities indicates that there are similarities and contrasts among and within different areas of Nunavik that point to both general and localized impacts of climate change on Arctic communities. General trends include changes in berry and mammal distribution. Local trends include lower snow abundance, changing wind patterns and varying levels of impacts on travel and traditional activities. To assess these patterns, we used a novel mixed methods approach combining a qualitative analysis followed by a quantitative study of resulting codes and relevant quotes from interviewees. We believe this methodology can provide important insights into translating traditional knowledge into quantitative evidence for environmental policy and decision-making.

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Acknowledgments

This study was made possible due to the support of IPY-CiCAT, ArcticNet and NSERC. The UQTR delivered the ethics permit: Climate change impacts on Canadian Tundra (CiCAT) (CER-07-124-07.18). We wish to thank the people who generously shared their knowledge. They have been great teachers. In Umiujaq, special thanks to Lizzie Crow, Sarah Crow, Kathleen Inukpuk, Martha Kasudluak, Willie Kumarluk, Siasi Naluktuk, Viola Napartuk, Zackiasie Niviaxie, Moses Novalinga, Joshua Sala, Julia Tookalak, Dinah Tookalook, Lizzie Tookoolook, Alice Tooktoo senior, Alice N. Tooktoo middle, Billy Tooktoo, Charlie Tooktoo, Lucassie Tooktoo, Clara Tumic, Ernest Tumic. In Kangiqsujuaq, great thanks to Mary Anogak, Nappaaluq Arnaituq, Jessica Arngak, Minnie Etidloie, Eva Ilimasaut, Lizzie Irniq, Mary Kiatainaq, Alasie Koneak, Juusipi Nappaaluk, Lukaasi Nappaaluk, Naalak Nappaaluk, Pitsiulaq Pinguatuq, Aqujaq Qisiiq, Inuluk Qisiiq, Mark Terliluk, Annie Terliluk, Maata Tuniq. In Kangiqsualujjuaq, many thanks to Eva Annanack, Betsie Annanack, Johnny George Annanack, Sarah Pasha Annanack, Willie Emudluk, Lucas A. Etok, Mary Etok, Tivi Etok, Susie Morgan. Special thanks also to the interpreters without whom this work would not have been possible: Mary Adams, Mary Annanack, Rita Annanack, Pasha Arngak, Annie Baron, Harriet Etok, Charlotte Morgan and Lucassie Tooktoo; to Bernard Jeune, Louis Houde (UQTR) and Stéphane Daigle (IRBV) for their help with statistics. We are also indebted to Alice N. Tooktoo and Charlie Tooktoo, Pierre Phillie and Jessica Arngak, Pasha Arngak, Molly Emudluk for providing lodging with a great sense of hospitality. Finally, thanks to Carl Geoffroy for his input into the graphs.

Conflict of Interest

The authors declare that they have no conflict of interest.

Informed Consent

Prior informed consent was reached before any interview started as per the ethics permit: Climate change impacts on Canadian Tundra (CiCAT) (CER-07-124-07.18).

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Corresponding author

Correspondence to Alain Cuerrier.

Appendices

Appendix 1. Detailed Descriptions of the Three Case Study Communities

Umiujaq

Umiujaq (Fig. 1) is located at 56°56′ N 76°55′ W (elevation 76 m) on Hudson Bay’s east shore. It is part of the Low Arctic at the edge of the treeline, in the low shrub subzone, with discontinuous permafrost. The average annual temperature at the nearest weather station of Kuujjuarapik is −4.4 °C, with total precipitation of 648.5 mm and annual degree-days >0 °C (TDD) of 1309.8 (Environment Canada 2012). Umiujaq is part of Hudson Cuestas natural region (Ministère du Loisir, de la Chasse et de la Pêche 1986) characterized by white spruce (Picea glauca) stands growing around Lac Guillaume-Delisle (Richmond Gulf), small scattered stands of tamarack (Larix laricina) and stunted black spruce (Picea mariana) on the back slopes of the cuestas, while shrubs and herbaceous vegetation cover the faces of cuestas as well as rocky peaks (KRG 2007). Among the three communities, Umiujaq has the most diverse flora of the three communities, which includes 503 vascular plant species (KRG 2007).

We believe that responses from Umiujak residents may be influenced by important historical factors. Umiujaq is the youngest community in our sample established in 1986. In comparison, Kangiqsujuaq and Kangiqsualujjuaq were established in the 1960s. In 1975, as part of negotiations of the James Bay and Northern Quebec agreement, a number of Inuit from Kuujjuarapik were relocated near Richmond Gulf, to a new settlement named Umiujaq, to preserve their traditional lifestyle in an area where fish and game would not be threatened by hydro-electric developments at the time (Martin 2001). People from other communities joined them. In 2011, the population reached 444 people.

Kangiqsualujjuaq

Kangiqsualujjuaq is also in the Low Arctic near the treeline (Fig. 1). It stands at the mouth of the George River, 25 km from Ungava Bay, at 58°69′ N 65°94′ W (elevation 10 m). It is in the low shrub subzone where permafrost is discontinuous in the valley and continuous on plateaus and mountains (KRG 2005). The average annual temperature at the nearest weather station of Kuujjuaq is −5.7 °C with total precipitation of 526.8 mm and annual degree-days >0 °C (TDD) of 1180 (Environment Canada 2012). Vegetation is herbaceous tundra on hills and black spruce stands in valleys. Besides spruce and tamarack, small stands of balsam poplar (Populus balsamifera) and erect willows are also present. Vascular flora of the area is made of 269 species (KRG 2005). The construction of the village began in 1962 and was legally established as a municipality in 1980 (Nunavik Tourism Association 2010). Its population is now estimated at 874 people (Statistics Canada 2011).

Kangiqsujuaq

The third community, Kangiqsujuaq (Fig. 1), is situated on the south-eastern shore of Wakeham Bay, 10 km from the Hudson Strait, at 61°60′ N 71°96′ W (elevation 13 m). The average annual temperature at the nearest weather station of Inukjuak is −7 °C with total precipitation of 459.9 mm and annual degree-days >0 °C (TDD) of 936.7 (Environment Canada 2012). The vegetation is mainly herbaceous tundra with pockets of erect willow in protected areas, characteristic of the Low Arctic erect dwarf shrub subzone, with continuous permafrost (FAPAQ 2000). Among the three communities, Kangiqsujuaq has the least diverse flora, with around 220 vascular plant species (Blondeau and Cayouette 2002). The settlement was established in 1960 (Nunavik Tourism Association 2010) and its population is now estimated at 696 people (Statistics Canada 2011).

Appendix 2

Table 4 List of the 54 ordinal and binary variables used for the frequency of consensus analyses

Appendix 3

Table 5 Proportion of interviewees (%) having observed no change, some change (c), or more/later/bigger (↑), less (↓), earlier (e) phenomena on different themes among 3 Inuit communities in Nunavik and between men and women. Grey color means dissimilarity among communities or between men and women

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Cuerrier, A., Brunet, N.D., Gérin-Lajoie, J. et al. The Study of Inuit Knowledge of Climate Change in Nunavik, Quebec: A Mixed Methods Approach. Hum Ecol 43, 379–394 (2015). https://doi.org/10.1007/s10745-015-9750-4

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Keywords

  • Climate change
  • Vegetation
  • Traditional ecological knowledge
  • Nunavik
  • Quebec