Sustainable Cultures

Theme Coordinator – David Natcher, University of Saskatchewan

Theme Update – June 2014

There are several projects underway in the Sustainable Cultures Theme. First, Kiri Staples, Master’s candidate at the University of Saskatchewan, has conducted research in the Yukon and examined the role of gender in resource co-management. In her study, Kiri is exploring the obstacles some women face when participating on northern co-management boards and how those participatory barriers might affect management outcomes.

In another project, Shea Shirley, a Master’s Candidate in the School of Environment and Sustainability, at the University of Saskatchewan, is examining the obstacles that northerners face in harvesting wildlife resources. Based on survey results from over 2500 households, Shea Shirley is showing how barriers to wildlife harvesting are socially, economically and politically differentiated across the North, and are being experienced differently depending on age, gender and the social organization of households within communities. The results of both of these projects will lend to a more informed understanding of the conditions that can lead to sustainable cultures in the North.

Research Focus

Land Claims and the Protection of Aboriginal Environmental Livelihoods in Nunavik and Alaska
In 1971, the first comprehensive Aboriginal land claim in North America was signed between Alaska Natives and the United States Government. Four years later, in 1975, Canada entered into its first comprehensive land claims, the James Bay Northern Quebec Agreement, with the Cree and Inuit of northern Quebec. While the primary motivation for the settlement of these land claims agreements was arguably the need to establish clear and secure title to lands and resources in advance of large-scale resource development (oil and hydro-electric), it is also widely acknowledged that land claims agreements would provide Aboriginal claimants with well-defined entitlements to land and wildlife resources. These agreements, by virtue, were  to protect a valued way of life predicated largely on the harvesting of wildlife resources. However, the actual scope and practical significance of maintaining this valued way of life for Alaska Natives and Inuit of Nunavik has largely been determined by how subsistence rights and interests are reflected in their respective claims. The policy and legislative environment created by these two land claims agreements have had a major effect at the community level by influencing what forms of livelihood can be attained. These varying institutional arrangements may either reinforce subsistence rights or produce additional food insecurities. In the four decades that have past since the signing of ANCSA and the JBNQA no in-depth comparative study has been conducted on how these two foundational land claims agreements have affected the environmental livelihoods of Aboriginal claimants. This research will fill that void through collaborative research with the Council of Athabaskan Tribal Governments in Alaska and the Kativik Regional Government and Makivik Corporation in Nunavik. Specifically, this research will:

1)     Quantify, through a common survey instrument, the extent to which environmental resources contribute to household, community, and regional economies in Alaska and Nunavik (8 communities).

2)     Gain a better understanding of how the settlement of comprehensive land claims in Alaska and Nunavik relate to food security and the livelihoods of Aboriginal communities.

3)     Determine to what extent ANCSA and JBQNA provide for the protection of Aboriginal subsistence rights as those rights may be affected by future renewable and non-renewable resource development and wildlife conservation measures.

It is anticipated that a wealth of empirical information will be generated from this research that can then be used to develop guiding principles for policy that are based on ground level reality. This will be of value as a point of reference as new structures emerge in response to an ever-increasing number of Native title determinations and as innovative approaches are explored in land management and governance.


Most communities in Northern Canada are Indigenous communities. The Indigenous peoples of the region have undergone tremendous social change over the past 60 years, their recent history being marked by the struggle to regain control over their communities. Through the recent land claims and other mechanisms, the Indigenous peoples of Northern Canada are reshaping the North in a manner that supports and enhances their traditional cultures and future economic aspirations. For resource development in Northern Canada to be truly sustainable, it must occur in a manner that supports the cultural foundations of the Indigenous peoples of the region and enhances their ability to participate in economic and social affairs.

Subproject research questions include:

  • How can we mitigate the negative impacts of resource development on food security?
  • Which aspects of the modern treaties have had the most positive impacts on promoting Aboriginal involvement in the development of the region’s resources?
  • How are land claims organizations able to contribute most effectively to the sustainable development of resources in the region?
  • What types of employment programs best enhance local Aboriginal employment in the resource sector?
  • What are the most effective training techniques that encourage local Aboriginal employment in resource development?
  • How can communities optimize opportunities found in the mixed economy?

Theme Coordinator – David Natcher, University of Saskatchewan

Other team members include – James Ford (McGill University), Chris Furgal (Trent University), Martha Dowsley (Lakehead University), Thierry Rodon (Université Laval), Virginia Gibson (University of British Columbia), Hayley Hesseln (University of Saskatchewan)


Projects under this theme: