Human-Beluga Relations and Subsistence Hunting in Aklavik, NT

Regions: Inuvialuit Settlement Region

Tags: social sciences, traditional knowledge, beluga whale, subsistence

Principal Investigator: Worden, Elizabeth G (2)
Licence Number: 16137
Organization: University of Manitoba
Licenced Year(s): 2018 2017
Issued: Jul 12, 2017
Project Team: Elizabeth Worden (Principal investigator, University of Manitoba), Dr. Lisa Loseto (Research supervisor, Fisheries and Oceans Canada)

Objective(s): To improve understanding of human-beluga whale relations over time and the implications of change for subsistence livelihoods in Aklavik.

Project Description: The aim of the proposed research is to improve understanding of human-beluga whale relations over time and the implications of change for subsistence livelihoods in Aklavik. The aim will be achieved through three objectives:
1) to document and describe the role and importance of subsistence hunting in the community of Aklavik, with a specific focus on human-beluga relations;
2) to examine local understanding and scientific research of social and ecological changes occurring in the region; and,
3) to assess the implication of these changes for subsistence livelihoods and community well-being.

Data for this project will be collected through semi-structured interviews (1 hour long, thirty participants), freelisting (two focused, simple questions asked to thirty participants), participant observation in daily activities (learning through living with community members), narrative inquiry (making meaning through stories), and analyzing beluga harvesting data for the region.

These methods of data collection are selected to be sensitive to Inuvialuit and Gwich’in epistemologies and also to attempt to diminish the power dynamics of academic research by engaging participants in humble, meaningful and culturally appropriate ways.

Semi-structured interviews are expected to last roughly one hour, and will involve techniques such as open-ended questions and map exercises. The interviews will target thirty participants of different ages (youth, adults, and elders), and of different levels of involvement in the Aklavik beluga harvest (current beluga harvesters; people with a history of beluga harvesting in their family; and people involved in subsistence activities but not in beluga harvesting). Finalization of the interview guide will occur in collaboration with the Aklavik Hunters and Trappers Committee (AHTC), ensuring that the breadth of the interview is culturally appropriate and also relevant to community concerns. Maps of the region with plastic overlay and a permanent marker will be available during the interview, serving as an outlet through which participants can tell stories, conjure up memories, and demonstrate their knowledge of the land.

Participants will be selected through convenience sampling and snowball sampling. Convenience sampling respects that summer is a busy time of year and will accommodate the fact that only certain individuals may be available during the research period in Aklavik. Recruitment posters will be placed throughout the community on the Aklavik HTC's Facebook page to allow for interested individuals to contact the researcher. Snowball sampling will allow for community members to recommend individuals who would be beneficial to the research process based on their knowledge of the beluga harvest, or involvement in subsistence hunting.

Interviews will be conducted in an informal atmosphere of the participants' choosing and will be recorded in audio format, if consent is given. Participants will be approached in person after the interview once preliminary data is identified to ensure that they are comfortable with the interpretation of their words, and allow for them to clarify any point they see as important. This in-person consultation will occur again in spring 2018 when drafts of publications have taken shape to guarantee proper context and cultural accuracy.

Freelisting will consist of two directed and simple questions that will be asked to every participant and serve to create revealing trends in the community. The two questions will be; "What is your favourite food to eat?" and "How often do you eat that food?”. Based on what community members identify as their favourite foods, a deeper understanding of where beluga falls in the spectrum of country food preference will be obtained.

Participant observation and narrative enquiry will occur throughout the course of engagement with Aklavik community members. Participant observation, or 'learning through experience' will allow for the research to position themselves in the dynamics of the community and better understand Aklavik culture through active involvement in the daily lives of community members. The researcher will have an open and humble attitude, and will be helpful and engaged with the community. Narrative enquiry will occur with the story-teller's consent. Should a community member who is not an interviewee share a very relevant story or perspective that would contribute to the research, the researcher will ask the individual's consent in possibly including that perspective in final deliverables. If the individual is not comfortable, then absolutely none of their words or perspective will be included. If consent is given, the researcher will provide the individual with contact information and will contact the individual throughout the research process to ensure that the context of their words is correct.

This project will produce publications reaching a wide audience, including through thesis publication, report publication, community publications (pamphlets and booklets), and presentations to conferences. Because the project is conducted with heavy local direction and involvement, the goal is to produce final deliverables that accurately reflect the community's culture and opinions. By having a two-month field component (summer 2017) in the research process, with an additional engagement to review preliminary findings (spring 2018), there will be ample time to get feedback, participation and advice from involved community members. This will create a substantial learning opportunity for Aklavik, which will bring educational benefit.

Frequent communication will be maintained with the Aklavik Hunters and Trappers Committee and interview participants after the summer 2017 research period. This will ensure an easy way to provide feedback, have constructive conversations, and seek guidance on issues that may cause confusion and require clarification. The researcher’s contact information will also be available to all participants in the study, should they wish to engage with the researcher in any way.

Final data will be shared with the community in the form of deliverables to be held by the community; including a small booklet summarizing the research in plain language, and a shorter summary report of the research results. Should participants desire, a copy of their personal interview transcripts and/or recording will be returned to them following the project’s completion. Once these items are returned to the participant, they are fully the participants’ responsibilities and the researcher relinquishes all accountability of what happens to them.

Finally, project results will be disseminated by the researcher in potential conferences, forums and workshops. The results will be submitted to a peer-reviewed academic journal for consideration for publication. Appropriate journals that will be considered include Human Ecology and Arctic.

The fieldwork for this study will be conducted from July 13, 2017 to August 21, 2017.