Nunatsiaq Online
NEWS: Nunavut December 12, 2014 - 6:06 am

Arctic conference sees growing focus on traditional Inuit knowledge

"The stories are the data"

SARAH ROGERS
Unikkaaqatigiinniq, or storytelling, has become an important source of data to health researcher Gwen Healey’s work, which focuses on sexual health in Nunavut. (PHOTO BY SARAH ROGERS)
Unikkaaqatigiinniq, or storytelling, has become an important source of data to health researcher Gwen Healey’s work, which focuses on sexual health in Nunavut. (PHOTO BY SARAH ROGERS)

OTTAWA — When you ask Sanikiliuaq hunter Lucassie Arragutainaq about the health of the eider duck population around his community, he’ll tell you that in recent years, it’s been sustainable.

But that’s not based on a survey count.

“Our knowledge comes from here,” he says, tapping his heart.

In other words, it’s his every day experiences travelling on the land and water in Hudson Bay that inform his understanding about the local environment.

While western science still has a way to go to embrace Inuit Qaujimajatuqangit, the phrase “traditional knowledge” appeared in a number of the presentations made at ArcticNet’s Arctic Change 2014 conference this week in Ottawa.

But for some, like health researcher Gwen Healey, it’s part of her day-to-day work.

The scientific director of the Iqaluit-based Qaujigiartiit health research centre gave a Dec. 10 session at Arctic Change on how the centre approaches it work.

The centre follows a model that Healey calls Piliriqatigiinniq, which means working together for the common good — a place where scientific research and Inuit ways of knowing meet.

Qaujigiartiit’s goal is to better inform health research on Inuit issues to better address health priorities in Nunavut.

To do that, Healey said she and her staff work to “decolonize” research methods, by placing indigenous voices and traditional Inuit knowledge at the centre of the research process.

“It’s not a rejection of western methods and theories, but a chance to embrace the different kinds of knowledge that can be shared and created in indigenous communities,” Healey told the session.

For example, unikkaaqatigiinniq, or storytelling, has become an important source of information for Healey’s own work, which focuses on sexual health in Nunavut.

In exploring sexual health, Healey gathers stories from Inuit, often about issues like trauma and family life, even the land, which all offer cultural context for her research.

“So the stories are the data,” she said. “Trying to adapt that to an academic model is difficult, but it’s important.”

The Qaujigiartiit health research centre, which first opened in 2006, now counts four full-time researchers.

You can read a paper Healey co-wrote with Andrew Tagak Sr. on the concept of Piliriqatigiinniq here.

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