Traditional Knowledge on the Impacts of Diamond Mining on Caribou and Communities in the Western Arctic
Project Completed (2015). Master of Science in Risk and Community Resilience Thesis, “These Trees Have Stories to Tell”: Linking Denésƍliné Knowledge and Dendroecology in the Monitoring of Barren-ground Caribou Movements in the Northwest Territories, Canada, is available here.
Thesis Abstract: Grounded in an Indigenous methodological framework and using dendroecology as a scientific assessment tool in combination with oral history analysis, this thesis assesses changes to caribou movement patterns in the traditional territory of Lutsel K’e Dene First Nation (LKDFN), Northwest Territories, Canada. This approach was used to explore ways in which scientific methods can be used within an Indigenous research framework. This approach shows that Indigenous ways of knowing can set the basis for identifying the important research questions and methods, and that appropriate and complimentary scientific methods can be used to build upon that framework. I draw from methods of natural and social science disciplines including Participatory Action Research (PAR), ethnography, community-based research, participant observation, and dendroecology (tree-ring analysis). I worked with elders and harvesters to document oral histories about caribou movement patterns and augmented their observations and stories with information from dendroecological assessment techniques. This thesis provides a framework for those seeking to conduct ecological research by drawing linkages between Indigenous knowledge systems and scientific methods. I use the specific example of broadening our understanding of caribou movements by combing oral history narratives and dendroecology, however, the lessons learned could be applied across a wide range of disciplines. This research project is not only about asking questions related to the impacts of resource development to the community of Lutsel K’e and the caribou on which they depend, it also demonstrates that Indigenous communities can embrace and implement scientific methodologies while remaining grounded in our own Indigenous knowledge systems and practices.
The project is now complete. Kelsey completed her Master of Science in Risk and Community Resilience in 2015. Her thesis document titled “These Trees Have Stories to Tell”: Linking Denésƍliné Knowledge and Dendroecology in the Monitoring of Barren-ground Caribou Movements in the Northwest Territories, Canada is available online at https://era.library.ualberta.ca/files/db78tg017/Dokis-Jansen_Kelsey_L_201509_MSc.pdf
Project Leader: Kelsey Jansen, Master’s Candidate in Community Risk and Resilience at the University of Alberta
Research Supervisor: Brenda Parlee, Professor at the University of Alberta
There are numerous kinds of socio-economic and cultural and ecological effects of resource development in northern Canada which are not easily monitored at regional or territorial scales and are better understood through local level processes such as community-based monitoring. Previous research in Lutsel K’e resulted in a 12 year data set on change in self-government, healing and cultural preservation; many of the changes are associated with the impacts of diamond mining (1998-2010). Kelsey is working with the Wildlife, Lands and Environment Committee and Lutsel K’e Health and Social Services staff to interpret these statistics through workshops and focus groups in 2013.
Using both ethnographic and dendrochronology (tree-ring analysis) methods, she worked together with Denésƍliné elders, caribou harvesters, youth and graduate students / faculty from the University of Alberta to track the effects of diamond mining activity on barren-ground caribou movements over a 3-year period. She conducted interviews around changes to caribou movement patterns over the last century and will be augmenting the interview outcomes with a tree-ring analysis of black spruce root samples that were taken from caribou trails at key crossing sites in the Lutsel K’e Dene Traditional Territory. Outcomes include a conceptual framework for using western methodologies within an indigenous methodological framework and a set of best practices for conducting northern scientific research within an indigenous context. Applied results will include a historical portrait of caribou use of the Artillery Lake area over the last 100 years.
To collect and analyze traditional knowledge and ecological data of landscape-caribou interactions; to develop a set of community-based indicators to assist the community of Lutsel K’e in the monitoring of barren-ground caribou movements within their traditional territory; and to conduct research in collaboration with the Lutsel K’e Dene First Nation through an Elder Steering Committee and mentorship of local youth through training acitivities related to environmental monitoring and computer mapping systems.
Project Description: Ths research project is being carried out under the direction of the Wildlife, Lands and Environment Committee (WLEC) in Lutsel K’e and in collaboration with a community research assistant.
The objectives of this research project are to:
(1) collect and analyze traditional knowledge and ecological data of landscape-caribou interactions;
(2) develop a set of community-based indicators to assist the community of Lutsel K’e in the monitoring of barren-ground caribou movements within their traditional territory;
(3) provide industrial developers in the region, including Diavik Diamond Mines and BHP Billiton, with recommendations for the use of Denesoline Traditional Knowledge in environmental monitoring;
(4) conduct research in collaboration with the Lutsel K’e Dene First Nation through an Elder Steering Committee and mentorship of local youth through training activities related to environmental monitoring and computer mapping systems;
(5) employ mixed methodological approaches to foster collaboration between traditional knowledge and scientific principles of research; and
(6) ensure project outcomes reflect community needs; dissemination of research results will be carried out through community workshops, a community report and all new traditional knowledge data will be compiled and added to the community’s traditional knowledge database so it may be accessed by all community members.
An interdisciplinary approach, including methodologies from conservation biology, landscape ecology and cultural anthropology, will shed light on the social and ecological value of these sites and provide a framework for assessing the impact of mineral resource development on movement of caribou in the study area. A transect of crossing sites (eda) will be identified in collaboration with Denesoline elders and caribou biologists. Along this gradient, baseline research will identify key indicators of caribou habitat health and caribou movements, with the ultimate goal of determining trends and patterns within the zone of influence of the mine. Specifically, the proposed research will investigate caribou-landscape interactions at Artillery Lake. Collection of data at this site will attempt to address the following three questions:
1. How is caribou movement influenced by landscape disturbance?
2. What is the spatial distribution of these effects; and
3. How do these changes impact other human-wildlife interactions including harvesting by Dene people?
Spatial data for each of the sites will be analyzed to create descriptions of vegetation cover, topography and degree of anthropogenic landscape disturbance. Caribou use of these crossing sites will be calculated through sampling and analysis of tree root scars of black spruce (Picea mariana) using established methodologies employed to estimate caribou population cycles in this region and in northern Quebec.
The research team will work with a community researcher and mentor them in the use of Geographic Information Systems (GIS) technology and general computer training as well as site assessment techniques (eg. identification of roots scars on black spruce to age caribou trails). The research team will also work to engage youth in the documentation and interpretation of elder stories about caribou. New equipment including computers and audio and video recorders have been provided.
Previous project scoping was undertaken. Fifty days were spent in the community meeting with elders, researchers with the Nihat’ni Dene program, the Thaidene Nene program and summer employees with the Wildlife, Lands and Environment office. On the land interviews were conducted with elders in collaboration with Dr. Parlee to identify key considerations in the direction of the research. The research team also worked collaboratively with the WLED office to create a digital traditional knowledge database that will be accessible to the entire community.
Ongoing communication with community elders and the Wildlife office will ensure research objectives are in line with community desires and that members are informed of the progress of the project.
A community report summarizing all research completed will be presented to the WELC. A community meeting summarizing the results of the project will provide a forum for the community to provide guidance for future research.
Activities and Updates
For more information contact:
Department of Resource Economics and Environmental Sociology
Agricultural, Life and Environmental Sciences
University of Alberta, Edmonton AB T6G2H1