Trails of the Mountain Caribou: Renewing Indigenous Relationships in Conservation
Principal Investigator: Andrew, Leon (5)
Licence Number: 17046
Organization: Sahtu Renewable Resources Board
Licensed Year(s): 2022 2021 2020
Issued: May 20, 2022
Project Team: Deborah Simmons, Rhea McDonald, Gordon Yakeleya, Micheline Manseau, Blair Kennedy, Janet Winbourne, Cory Fournier, Kimberleigh Schultz, Manisha Singh, Valerie Norwegian, William Andrew, Lisa McDonald, Tracey Williams, Adam Bathe

Objective(s): To study the biocultural and socioeconomic significance of the Ni´o Ne? P’e?ne?´ area, a framework for caribou conservation and habitat protection and to explore Indigenous Ways of Being, Ways of Doing, and Indigenous Resurgence.

Project Description: This licence has been issued for the scientific research application No.5157.

The anticipated outcome of the plan and associated research will be a body of evidence supporting the biocultural and socioeconomic significance of the Ni´o Ne? P’e?ne?´ area, a framework for caribou conservation and habitat protection. Furthermore, the program will support establishment of Indigenous-led Guardian and land protection initiatives, and will help in setting a standard for defining the nature of such initiatives in Canada.

The program addresses three themes: Ways of Being, Ways of Doing, and Indigenous Resurgence. The research team are undertaking five linked sub-projects. These include: 1) Following trails of the caribou: genetic-based research on northern mountain caribou to characterize the population genetic structure and diversity; 2) Understanding caribou landscapes: remote sensing-based research to characterize the biophysical aspects of northern mountain caribou habitat and to quantify ecological changes occurring within these regions; 3) Mapping knowledge: interviews and participatory mapping approaches using Indigenous and outfitters knowledge to characterize the state of knowledge about northern mountain caribou population and herd sizes, movement and distribution patterns, as well as observations of basic biology, behaviour, health, habitat use, and threats; 4) Livelihoods and climate change: Sustainable Livelihoods research to document local aspirations and perspectives on conservation and development through the lens of day-to-day lives in the context of climate change and community planning; and 5) Renewing governance: Action research exploring innovative frameworks and approaches for Indigenous governance, including Indigenous Protected Areas, Guardians, and community planning.

This five year program embraces a cross-cultural mixed methods approach involving a robust combination of Indigenous methodologies and scientific inquiry. Indigenous community participants will guide all phases of the research cycle, including design, implementation, analysis, knowledge dissemination and knowledge mobilization. While not all aspects of the technical work can be located in the communities, where possible a learning approach will be taken to supporting Indigenous community members to be conducting the work, with appropriate support.

Where possible community-collaborative research will take place at on-the-land camps. Documentation will include audio recording, note taking, photographs, mapping and video as appropriate and determined by community participants. Methods include cross-generational knowledge camps; talking circles; interviews; genetic sampling; land and vegetation ground-truthing; and Action Research.

Cross-generational knowledge camps: Knowledge holders, Guardians and youth will engage in place-based experiential learning about caribou, landscapes, and Dene ts'i?li? practices. The camps may include traditional skills and science-based training, talking circle knowledge sharing sessions, and interviews.

Talking circles for collective research design, cross-generational knowledge sharing and analysis (no more than 25 participants): The talking circle method draws upon traditional Shu´htaot’i?ne? knowledge sharing protocols for talking, listening, and building on what others are saying. Talking circles are based on principles of respect. There’s no interrupting. At the same time, the person speaking is usually thinking about time, trying to not take up more than their share of time so others have time to speak. Everyone in the circle is recognized to have something to contribute, including Dene/Me´tis and mo?´la (non-Indigenous) women and men of the three generations.

Interviews with one or more knowledge holders for more in-depth knowledge sharing: Interviews will be co-designed and tested with community and visiting researchers (via Zoom). A culturally appropriate semi-structured conversational approach will be adopted for interviews, involving a youth where possible.

Non-invasive sampling of caribou tissue and fecal pellets: Collecting will be done opportunistically during fall and winter caribou harvests, in collaboration with local harvesters and outfitters. A systematic aerial survey of key wintering areas of the Redstone herd will also be done in March 2021 to fill sampling gaps. The survey design will be developed in collaboration with the local Renewable Resource Councils (RRCs) (Tulita and Norman Wells) and the flights will involve community members. Caribou cratering areas will be located from the air and the aircraft will land in proximity of the sites in order to collect scat samples. Community members will be selected in collaboration with the RRCs as individuals with knowledge of caribou ecology in the region.

Sampling of land and vegetation cover (ground truthing of remote sensing images): Fieldwork will be done non-destructively along the Canol Road in the Ni´o Ne? P’e?ne?´ area using various photographic and passive measurement equipment (e.g. drones, spectrometers, and cameras). This data will be used for training of remote sensing data for land cover classification and change detection.

Documentation of outfitter knowledge regarding northern mountain caribou: This will involve interviews (45-60 minutes each) with willing participants on topics about northern mountain caribou ecology; a focus group and mapping exercise at the annual meeting of the outfitters to review to draft results. Contacted individuals may include guides currently operating in the Sahtú Region, those with a history of operation in the Sahtú Region, and guides located in regions bordering the Sahtú Region.

Renewing governance Action Research: This community-led research will include documentation of discussions and community engagement to develop a framework for stewardship of the Ni´o Ne? P’e?ne?´ area.

Results will be communicated to partnering communities through a combination of various media (which may include posters, newsletters, public presentations, presentations at schools and to partnering organisations, video and Facebook posts) as directed by the project team and partnering communities, and depending on team capacity. The project will be featured on the Sahtu Renewable Resources Board website, The research team will also take opportunities to present to the larger NWT public opportunistically through conferences.

Scientific findings related to the landscape change analysis and mountain caribou genetics research will be co-produced with members of the working group and the results will be communicated through reports and manuscripts. All scientific documents produced will be open source and made available to the communities (and supporting organizations) in various formats (e.g. digital and print media).

Regarding the interviews and participatory mapping results with the outfitters, a draft report will be provided to them for review and comment prior to being made publically available. A final report will be provided to the Sahtu Renewable Resource board for use in northern mountain caribou conservation planning.

The fieldwork for this study will be conducted from May 20, 2022 to December 31, 2022