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Arviat youth explore research with wildlife monitoring workshop

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Justin Kuksuk and Samantha Netser fill sampling forms after collecting measurements on ptarmigans as part of the wildlife monitoring training held in Arviat this May. Justin Kuksuk and Samantha Netser fill sampling forms after collecting measurements on ptarmigans as part of the wildlife monitoring training held in Arviat this May.

A group of eight Arviarmiut youth joined researchers this May for a one-week training workshop aimed at developing knowledge and skills in the scientific monitoring of wild animals.

The training was delivered by two researcher-mentors, Vincent L’Hérault and Marie-Hélène Truchon, from ARCTIConnexion. ARCTIConnexion is an organization led by young researchers that is aimed at facilitating the sharing of knowledge between Inuit communities and southern people.

Researcher and mentor Vincent L'Herault shows Arviat students and youth how to collect a caribou liver sample for determining animal health. Photo: V. L'Herault

“The training was an opportunity to answer community needs,” explained youth participant Curtis Konek. “Our young people are always looking for new opportunities, and being able to gain career exposure through research is a positive thing for us. There are careers available in those fields.”

“There’s a meaningful role for us in research on wildlife because we are the ones who live with them and we hunt them for food,” said Konek.

The training was a meaningful experience for participants because it successfully merged scientific knowledge and Inuit knowledge. It also builds on food security research conducted by the community over the last several years.

“When we started to talk about the training with Vincent and Marie, we all agreed that it would need to be culturally relevant for the students, and not too scientific.” explained Arviat researcher Shirley Tagalik, Chair of the Hamlet of Arviat’s Wellness Committee.

Students took advantage of the great summer weather to take training out of the classroom.

The fact that the training happened outside also contributed to making the workshop’s learning environment more comfortable and engaging. “The only element that reminded me of the cold lab ambiance was the blue gloves the students enjoyed wearing!” said Truchon.

“We started working together on caribou Tuesday. They did the work themselves the rest of the week. I was so proud of them!” she said.

L’Hérault, a doctoral student with the Université du Québec a Rimouski (UQAR) saluted the eagerness shown by the young participants and their enthusiasm in accomplishing their tasks.

JAHS Student Support Assistant Jimmy Napayuk shows his patience and surgical skill while extracting the peroneus tertius, a fine muscle from the hind leg of a caribou. Jimmy will be teaching high school students this fall.

“I’ve taught other youth in Kugluktuk and also down in Québec at my University and I was really impressed by the capacity of these students,” he said. “They worked endlessly and accurately collected samples on the animals. One youth showed higher skills than myself when the time came to extract a fragile caribou muscle!”

“The students didn’t expect that science monitoring would be such a comprehensive and natural experience for them,” said L’Herault. “The youth have taught us about the animals as much as we have taught them.”

Educators were impressed by the level of skills demonstrated by the students. The workshop was also a positive learning experience for the students.

Andrew Kuksuk coordinates the Arviat Young Hunters Program. In this photo, he proudly shows his catch after successfully extracting an otolith (brain bone) from an Arctic cod. Andrew will be teaching what he's learned to youth later this year.

Andrew Kuksuk, one of the most experienced young hunters of the group said “I’d never heard about the bone that fish carry in their brain, even though I’ve been fishing all my life! Now I know that we can count the age of fish using that bone!”

“We used rulers, sewing tapes, calipers and scales to learn more about the animals”, said Samantha Nester.

Ancila Irkok also enjoyed the training: “I liked reporting the information on the necropsy form and labelling the sampling bags, it was not hard at all.”

Curtis Konek enjoyed the experience. “I just enjoyed everything; ptarmigan, geese, fish, cod, caribou, wolf, grizzly, I had no preference,” he said. “Working on animals is all natural for me. Oh, but I didn’t like working on seal, since I come from a family raised on the land. We don’t really eat them at home.”

The animals used in the sampling workshop were locally harvested and the hunters were compensated for their work. Almost all of the meat used from the animals was later offered to the residents at the Arviat Elders Centre who cooked a series of delicious country food meals.

Tagalik says there is a promising future for wildlife monitoring in Arviat.

The week-long workshop saw researchers, educators, students and youth working and learning together and from each other.

“When you have local motivation within a group of committed youth and community, it is always easier to find the energy and resources to make it happen,” said Tagalik. “The Arviat Young Hunters Program and the high school’s land-based programming are foundations for future initiatives because they are driven by young leaders who spread their passion and motivation to others.”

“There has been much discussion on how community-driven research projects can be used as a source of outreach and early career exposure,” said Tagalik. “It’s important to promote opportunities that provide experiences that can help bridge students and graduates into further post-secondary education and careers.”

Several students will be working on wildlife monitoring work this summer as the year the community undertakes new research. A new project funded by the Government of Canada’s Northern Contaminants Program will see youth and researchers study the risks and benefits of consuming beluga this summer, along with other wildlife such as caribou and seal later this fall. This will become part of a larger monitoring initiative in Arviat. The hope is to gather on-going data to monitor climate change and environmental impacts so the community has good evidence to base decisions and planning on.

“Our Elders say the environment is changing fast now, and I think we need to know how the animals are doing,” said John Arnalukjuak High School student Justin Kuksuk.

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