Nunatsiaq News
NEWS: Nunavik December 01, 2006 - 1:13 pm

Spreading the word about IPY

‘Nodes’ connect scientists to communities in the North

JANE GEORGE

JUAQ – International Polar Year won’t start before March, 2007, but its Nunavik “node,” Barrie Ford of Kuujjuaq, is already working away in his office at the Nunavik Research Centre.

A node is a “the place on a stem where the leaves or branches are attached.”

And, as a node within Canada’s IPY organization, Ford is the researchers’ link to communities in Nunavik and Labrador and the communities’ connection to IPY.

“It could have been just called a northern office, but the idea was to have people in the North who would be concrete and visible,” Ford said. “Part of my job is to spread the word about IPY so people are more aware of it and know what is going on, and also to be a point of contact for scientists.”

Ford has spoken to schools in Nunavik, designed posters and contacted the region’s mayors, where a growing awareness of climate change is sparking interest in IPY.

“A lot of the mayors expressed concern that they’re seeing new birds and insects. So, it’s almost at a perfect time to have IPY,” Ford said.

Ford started his job as an IPY node in February. Last December, Ford had just completed his undergraduate degree in wildlife biology at Montreal’s McGill University and planned to take some time off in the city before heading home.

That is, until he got an urgent call from the Nunavik Research Centre asking him if he’d like to become a “northern node” for the polar year, which starts in March 2007 and actually lasts two years, until March 2009.

“I was kind of running out of money, so the timing was good,” Ford said.

Before he knew it, Ford was on his way to Edmonton for an Environment Canada workshop, where he learned more about his role as an IPY node for Nunavik and, on an interim basis, for Nunatsiavut.

Since then, among other duties, Ford advises scientists who want federal IPY money on how to involve communities in their research projects. IPY proposals are supposed to forge that social connection, unlike in the past, where most focused on collecting data.

“A lot of people didn’t know how they would get community involvement,” Ford said. “Some planned to be offshore in a boat measuring things, but even though they’re offshore, it’s still interesting for them to come into the communities, visit the schools and talk about what they’re doing.”

This IPY, the world’s fourth, is focusing on the human dimension of polar science.

The first polar years took place in 1882 and 1883, when 11 countries established 12 stations in the Arctic and two in the Antarctic to simultaneously observe weather and other phenomena.

The emphasis of research work during this IPY falls into two areas: the effects of climate change, and the state of community health in the North.

During IPY, thousands of researchers from around the world will conduct field work in Canada’s territories, Nunavik and Labrador.

Nunavut, whose IPY “node” is Jamal Shirley at the Nunavut Research Centre in Iqaluit, has attracted the majority of Canadian IPY interest.

But Ford said he was surprised that Nunavik generated more proposals than the Yukon.

Last month, Ford chaired a cultural and social review of Nunavik’s IPY proposals, with eight representatives from Nunavik’s major organizations. They ranked 21 projects on how they benefit and involve communities, including whether they incorporate elders and work in a culturally-sensitive fashion.

“We’re trying to avoid people coming up north without consultation or any communication at all, just showing up, doing their work and leaving,” Ford said.

Last week, the nodes from the territories and Nunavik met in Ottawa to discuss all their proposals. These are now in the hands of an IPY committee that will announce who gets money sometime this month.

Even with money from IPY Canada, every project must still pass licencing requirements, but if proposals fulfill the social and cultural criteria, Ford said they should also be able pass Quebec’s licencing hurdles.

Canada’s IPY funding of $150 million is spread over five years. However, most of the money will be used in first two years. Ford may remain a node for a long as five years, building on his university studies while he works.

The Canadian winter games in Whitehorse, Yukon will see the launch of IPY, along with other regional activities kicking off the polar year.

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