Carving out Climate Testimony: Inuit Youth, Wellness & Environmental Stewardship

Regions: Inuvialuit Settlement Region

Tags: social sciences, well-being, climate change, arctic ecosystems, youth

Principal Investigator: Bagelman, Jennifer (1)
Licence Number: 16949
Organization: Newcastle University
Licensed Year(s): 2022
Issued: Feb 03, 2022
Project Team: Karla Williamson

Objective(s): To address Arctic Ecosystems and their Impact on Inuit Communities; and to answer the two questions: how does climate change impact Inuit youth and what are the resilience factors that enhance well-being?

Project Description: This licence has been issued for the scientific research application No.5086.

This project addresses Arctic Ecosystems and their Impact on Inuit Communities. This project asks the two-fold question: how does climate change impact Inuit youth and what are the resilience factors that enhance well-being? The project is especially interested in innovative forms of adaptation key to continued survival. The National Inuit Strategy on Research (NISR) has noted that this question of health is a vital Inuit research priority.

Specifically this project explores terrestrial and freshwater ecosystems and cryosphere (sea, freshwater or glacial ice, snow, permafrost) in relation to mental health and well-being. Bringing expertise from across the social sciences, the team takes a community-engaged approach to this research. As such, rather than impose from the outset how these systems are framed, the research team provided a structure (including Inuk Advisories) and methodological pathway for communities to determine how these systems are understood and experienced, especially by Inuvialuit youth. The social science approach responds to the NISR’s observation that there exists a ‘biological-physical science research bias’s in Inuit research (noted in their 2018 Report). While grounded in the social sciences, vitally, the team also comprises physical scientists in order to promote meaningful new knowledge-exchange.

The approach is vital given that, despite the disproportionate impacts of climate change on Inuit youth, these communities remain chronically excluded from shaping climate policy. Too often, Indigenous youth voices are included as evidence of climate change rather than agents for shaping climate policy. Moreover, research tools used to document youth testimony remain too-often limited to conventional methods which are rarely culturally-relevant nor adequate in addressing embodied felt- experiences. Rather than remedying youth mental health, existing tools can deepen a sense of disempowerment thereby undermining resilience. Addressing this problem and the cross-cutting themes of this call, the project develops an Inuit-specific storytelling methodology for documenting indicators and determinants of Inuit community health and resilience. Specifically, the research team explore how Inuk art – such as carving – can be used as a material and intergenerational method to visually convey climate testimony and shape policy that enhances resilience strategies.

The project responds to wider calls to enhance youth leadership in addressing intersecting climate-mental health crises. The team brings the expertise to address these questions in a way that supports youth self-determination and centres youth as stewards of their own changing environments. The project is underpinned by the five priority areas that NSIR identifies for Inuit Nunangat research: 1) Inuit governance 2) Inuit-led ethics process 3) funding aligned with Inuit priorities 4) Inuit access, ownership, and control over data and 5) capacity-building. Embedding these priorities into all aspects of the research practice, the team develop an innovative and decolonising approach to the urgent question of mental health and wellness. Moreover, the team have established the necessary collaborations with international organizations such as the International Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) and policy-institutes (such as ICC, Arctic360 and the Arctic Studies Centre and ArcticNet) to ensure a pathway for Inuit-led action on climate.

Carefully following community protocols, the project will result in a five key deliverables: 1) a new youth-led methodological toolkit for arts-based climate monitoring 2) youth-led IPCC recommendations on mental-health and wellness 3) a youth-authored manuscript documenting climate testimonies through art and story 4) the establishment of two hubs: the ‘North-to-North Network’ which provides the infrastructure to support international dialogue and a Hub for Community-Climate Research to empower ongoing Inuit Nunangat research 5) a series of international youth-led climate public art exhibitions to promote Inuit stories of climate change.

1. Storytelling Method:
The project centres Inuit expertise, and specifically the long-standing practices of Unikkausivut (storytelling), to address youth experiences of and resilience strategies for climate change. We take lead from Inuk scholars who argue that storytelling is critical to understanding the lived aspects of our changing climate. Following this work, the team argue that storytelling can be understood as a vital method for documenting and addressing climate change.

In the first year these will take place in Tuktoyaktuk (in consultation with the Youth Advisory and Inuk Advisory). The rationale for focussing on Tuktoyaktuk is two-fold: one, members of the community living in Tuktoyaktuk have expressed a greater need for projects empowering youth, addressing questions of mental health. Second, in keeping with NISR, the research team believe that to truly establish a governance model that reflect community’s vision, the team needs to begin small. After the first year, the team will reach out to other communities across the four regions that make up Inuit Nunangat (the Inuvialuit Settlement Region (northern Northwest Territories), Nunavut, Nunavik (northern Quebec) and Nunatsiavut (northern Labrador) after we have piloted our approach.

The workshops will encourage youth to express and document their accounts of changing ecosystems through various forms of story and art practice. In particular, the team explore how carving, and other diverse basketry, textiles, printmaking practices that rely on diverse gendered knowledge can be used to articulate climate testimonies. Our work is guided by Indigenous research methodologies that involve Indigenous people at all stages of the process from design to dissemination in accordance with principles of respect, reciprocity, reflexivity and relationship-building. As such, rather than determine in advance the particular art-based skills (eg. carving, weaving etc) that will be explored in each session, youth will be empowered to determine this through dialogue with Elders. Each session will explore a different medium (ie: carving, beading) to be determined by Youth Advisory. This diversity of medium hopes to acknowledge the needs and perspectives of both adults and youth, as well as gendered knowledge (ie: carving typically male Elders) and to foster a dialogue between generations.

2. Participatory Policy & Knowledge Exchange
The second, interconnected method of the project is participatory policy: creating opportunities for youth to share their key concerns on climate/mental health as documented in their artworks to policy-audiences. The research team have designed a series of events that support deliberative dialogue about climate change and mental health, led by youth.

The research team are delighted that the IPCC has agreed to participate first and foremost to bear witness to youth’s climate stories (as represented in their art pieces), and to engage in exchange as set out by youth protocol. A vital method of our project is to develop creative opportunities to bring academics and policy-makers (such as the IPCC) to northern communities and create space for ‘participatory science’. This is important for re-imagining North not as ‘remote’ but as global through these events.

Events will be hosted in locations determined by participants themselves, what they consider to be meaningful spaces of engagement such as: art galleries or schools. The geography here matters. Art-based expressions will not be limited to carving, but again determined by youth (could include a range of expressions from throat singing, to weaving, print—making etc.) each which illuminates different aspects, atmospheres and affects of climate and makes space to connect with diverse voices on climate.

In the first instance, the project emerges from a call for more work with youth in Tuktoyaktuk on climate change/mental health from community themselves. The research team have already established significant community connections through this first stage of work and have further established a Inuk Advisory Committee who have committed to providing guidance relating to different aspects of our project, throughout its duration. The first year of the project will also involve establishing a Memo of Understanding, led by community protocol. The research team have built into the timeline one full year to ensure protocol is fully democratic.

The fieldwork for this study will be conducted from March 1, 2022 to December 31, 2022.