Arctic researchers meet in Iqaluit last weekend


IQALUIT — The question of how to better develop and direct circumpolar research was on the minds of social scientists from several circumpolar countries and indigenous peoples who met in Iqaluit last week.

The researchers are members of a working group of the International Arctic Sciences Committee, which reports directly to the eight-nation Arctic Council.

IASC is a non-governmental organization that provides advice, and encourages and promotes research in the Arctic.

The IASC’s working group on social and cultural change specifically looks at research on “how humans influence and are influenced by environmental change.”

Its members are committed to making sure that people who live in circumpolar regions — whom they refer to as “the stakeholders” — are actively involved in research.

That’s why they felt it was important to meet in Iqaluit. “This is the first time that this has been done,” said Bruce Rigby of the Nunavut Research Institute, which helped organize the meeting.

Members of IASC working group include Mary Ekho Wilman from the Nunavut Social Development Council, as well as some social scientists who have lived and worked in the eastern Arctic for many years: anthropologist Yvon Csonka, who carried out historical research in the Kivalliq region, and Ludger Müller-Wille, a geographer who lived in Repulse Bay in the early 1970s and then later produced maps of Nunavik with traditional Inuttitut names.

Other working group members, such as Marit Myrvoll, a Sami anthropologist from Tromsø, Norway, were visiting the Canadian Arctic for the first time.

While the IASC working group doesn’t give money to projects, its endorsement does carry weight when granting agencies decide where to invest funds.

Research projects seeking their support could include research on subjects as diverse as land use or indigenous languages.

Russians have said that they would like to see more studies into the causes and effect of alcoholism in the isolated communities of the Russian Far North.

Yet it’s only quite recently that this kind of discussion between the various circumpolar partners became possible. Until former Russian leader Mikhail Gorbachev opened up his country to the outside world, there was little collaboration between circumpolar researchers.

The new possibilities for cooperation led in 1990 to the establishment of the IASC in Resolute Bay, and the establishment of the International Association of Arctic Social Sciences in Fairbanks, Alaska.

“Before that there was a split in the circumpolar world,” said Ludger Müller-Wille. “Since then, for Arctic science, there’s been a difference.”

In 1995, IASSA encouragedthe IASC to get more involved in the social sciences, such as anthropology, sociology and geography, as a way of increasing the participation of Arctic residents in research.

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