Bridging the gap: Western science and Inuit Qaujimajatuqangit
According to ethical guidelines laid out by the Canadian government, universities, and various permitting agencies, and broadly understood by practitioners of Western science, scientists may journey to wherever they see gaps in literature (figuratively and literally) and conduct research to answer a question — but where does this leave the communities who host these scientists? From an Inuit perspective, scientists who study the Arctic are too often collecting knowledge and drawing conclusions about their lands and disappearing without so much as chatting with folks in town. There are many barriers in place that prevent Inuit from accessing Western scientific results, including jargon and pay walled academic journals. Despite new requirements for community engagement and knowledge mobilization from funders, it seems as though researchers struggle to incorporate these into practice in a way that honours and respects locals. This pattern reinforces the extractive legacy of Western science on Indigenous Peoples and lands. Furthermore, Inuit, like all Indigenous Peoples, consider themselves part of the environment; therefore, work done on their lands (even if a scientist is collecting rocks, measuring snowpack, or looking at sea kelp) is work being done on them.
Despite centuries of mistreatment, misrepresentation, violence, attempted erasure of culture and knowledge, and the weaponized use of Western science, Inuit see the value that Western science can bring when it is done in a collaborative and respectful way with communities. The truth is that Inuit Qaujimajatuqangit, or IQ, and Western science are not so different. Science is an attempt to standardize methods to help humans understand our world. It values evidence, experimentation, curiosity, objectivity, repeatability, accuracy, record-keeping, and peer-review. IQ is also a way to understand the world, crafted and passed down by generations of ancestors in specific regional contexts. It values evidence, experimentation, curiosity, objectivity, repeatability, knowledge mobilization, and peer-review. IQ is built on respect and care for others and the environment, fostering good spirit by being inclusive and welcoming, being innovative and resourceful, and working together. IQ is ingrained in Inuit and is as respected by Inuit as Western science is by scientists.
In contemporary times, new models and methods of respectful and ethical Western scientific research on Inuit Nunangat are cropping up, but the actual uptake and practical comprehension of requests for respectful, ethical, and equitable research is slow. Credit must be given to scientists who have made huge progress in conducting research in this way, yet it is far from widely implemented. ArcticNet, a national network that gathers scientists and other professionals to study the impacts of climate change and modernization in the Arctic, immediately jumps to mind as being trailblazers on this front. Often, researchers and scientists want a blueprint that is black and white that can be applied ubiquitously across disciplines and geographical regions. In practice, each community and project is unique, so a “simple” one-size-fits-all solution isn’t necessarily feasible. How do we shift this harmful pattern to an inclusive, respectful, mutually beneficial process?
Ikaarvik and the SciQ concept
Enter a group of young Inuit from across Nunavut who are in a unique position. They are young enough to have had access to the internet and new technologies for most of their lives, yet being born and raised in the Arctic has exposed them to IQ from their Elders and Knowledge Keepers. They have seen scientists (in many cases) ignore Inuit and their expert knowledge and fail to communicate their intent or share the results of their work. They recognize that science and IQ share many similarities and can strengthen one another when combined. From communities throughout Nunavut, youth came together to form what is now a registered non-profit: Ikaarvik, meaning “to bridge.” They create opportunities for meaningful involvement of Northern Indigenous youth in Arctic research and in decision-making. Ikaarvik understood the need to create a high-level blueprint for scientists to respect and include IQ in their work. The recommendations outline how these changes look practically and can easily be tailored to various disciplines and communities. They dubbed this concept “SciQ.”
The question then remains, why aren’t more scientists adopting the explicit instructions outlined by Ikaarvik (not to mention other Inuit for decades) and implementing Inuit-written ethical considerations into their work? I had to reflect on this question myself as a “traditionally” trained academic from southern Canada who has been in academia for 11 years. For three years, I had been shipped off to the Arctic to collect samples and data for scientific research. When that work was completed, I would travel back home, conduct lab work, write reports; wash, rinse, repeat, with no requirement to engage the community members on whose lands I was a guest. When the SciQ concept was published as an open-source academic manuscript, I began to consider how I was actively upholding the harmful and colonial aspects of Western science. What are my responsibilities to the communities I visit as a guest, kin, and the land? Am I honouring these responsibilities?