SIKU puts Inuit knowledge first at Montreal’s Inuit Studies Conference

“Inuit will be much better about bringing Inuit knowledge and science together”

Youth in Gjoa Haven spell out the Inuktitut syllabics for SIKU after a workshop in September 2018. “So awesome to have you involved in helping create SIKU!” said the Arctic Eider Society on Facebook. The society held a presentation on SIKU at the 2019 Inuit Studies Conference earlier this month in Montreal. (Photo courtesy of the Arctic Eider Society/Facebook)

By Kahlan Miron

Imagine a smartphone app that told Inuit everything they needed to know before going out on the land, providing weather and tide forecasts, satellite imagery and warnings about dangerous conditions.

Or imagine an app that allowed users to share their observations and stories, conveniently tagged on a map—available online and offline, if you download the maps before leaving internet connectivity—as well as the Inuit version of Wikipedia. Or, maybe, imagine a community feed that lets you know everything that happened in the local area.

SIKU, a project being developed by the Arctic Eider Society, was created to combine all these ideas into a social media platform. It’s “created by Inuit and for Inuit,” Candice Pedersen, a regional coordinator for the project, said during a presentation at the recent Inuit Studies conference in Montreal.

The app, which is built on the society’s previous IK-MAP project, is currently available in a beta version. SIKU is expected to launch in full later this year.

SIKU attracted a lot of attention two years ago after winning a spot in the 2017 Impact Challenge, which spread $5 million among 10 Canadian charities that had, as described on the competition website, “innovative ideas for a better world.”

Following up on that success, the SIKU team presented at the 2019 Inuit Studies Conference on Friday, Oct. 4.

Inuit suggested a lot of the features of the app when the society reached out for consultation, as well as the project’s guiding principles, Pederson said. In that way, SIKU was co-developed by the communities themselves.

The SIKU team held workshops across Inuit Nunangat. For example, the society worked with Ikaarvik programs in Pond Inlet, Cambridge Bay and Gjoa Haven; hunters and youth in Sanikiluaq, Inukjuak, Umiujaq and Kuujjuaraapik; various organizations like SmartICE and Canadian Ice Service; community research programs; and Nunavut Sivuniksavut in Ottawa.

During their Oct. 4 presentation, the society mentioned upcoming workshops in 20 communities, including Umiujaq, Grise Fiord, Naujaat and Arctic Bay.

Facebook was also a major influence. Johnny Kudluarok, director of the Arctic Eider Society, offered “Nunavut hunting stories of the day” as an example. The group gave hunters a space to share information and look at older posts, using information collected over years.

Inuit already use existing social media for Inuit purposes, Kudluarok and Joel Heath, the Executive Director of the Arctic Eider Society, said. So, instead of creating something brand new, the SIKU team wanted to improve on that model and make an Inuit version of Facebook.

Inuit science

“Scientists have often reacted to Inuit knowledge [as] ‘that’s interesting, but you don’t have any data, it’s anecdotal’,” said Heath, describing what commonly happens between hunters and scientists.

Even though a hunter can be out on the land every day, collecting data for years and comparing it with data from other hunters and elders, “scientists will spend five years trying to prove what Inuit already told them was true.”

The difference, Heath says, is that scientists document their data while Inuit have traditionally relied on oral history. But with SIKU, Inuit can document their data too, using online content to support their knowledge.

And unlike other areas of the internet, where someone’s online content can be used without permission, a SIKU user owns their data. People and organizations will need consent before using someone’s content. Not even SIKU or the Arctic Eider Society can compete for content ownership—the society wrote itself out of the privacy policy. SIKU may host a person’s posts, but, like any other organization, the society will need permission to use those posts.

This arrangement helps encourage healthy collaborations, and returns power to Inuit when it comes to Inuit knowledge and experiences.

“We want Inuit to be the next generation of scientists,” said Heath. “It’s hard for scientists to learn Inuit knowledge and bring it in. Inuit will be much better about bringing Inuit knowledge and science together.”

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(5) Comments:

  1. Posted by INUK on

    INUK SCIENCE ?????

  2. Posted by Joe Moe on

    Inuit science is a possbility and reality. All cultures are capable of forming and working in science. We know this from China, india, and the USA. Sila, ice, and seasons are matters of Inuit science. When you begin to carefully consider the idea you will realize Inuit operated by science even within their traditions.

    • Posted by No Moniker on

      Science is a method used to discover truth about the world. Anyone can use the method, it doesn’t need to be qualified by breaking it into cultural sub-categories. There’s really no such thing as ‘Inuit science’ beyond Inuit doing science itself.

  3. Posted by Karl Popper on

    I see a few popular misunderstandings surfacing in this article. Correct me if I’m wrong, but the first seems to suggest that data is just a plural of anecdotes, or that anecdotes, when written down, become data, but this isn’t quite true. Data is created through a structured and rigorous process pointed toward specific kinds of questions and information about the world used to help form, or confirm, or refute existing hypothesis. Anecdotes are useful, but they are not always reliable and can give very bad, if not completely misleading information because they are often born within a cluster of biases and preconceived notions about how the world works, which may or may not be true.
    The second is in the backhanded comment that science takes five years to prove what Inuit already told them to be true. I can’t confirm the truth of what Inuit have said specifically, but any untested (but testable) claim on how the world is constitutes a hypothesis. If you want to do good science then your hypotheses need to go through a rigorous process of evaluation. If you’re not doing that, you’re not doing science (assuming that is what you want to do).
    Why is that?
    Because science is a method that requires testability, repeatability, refutability, and must be open to the scrutiny of the scientific community. These are the ideals and strengths of science, not some implicit weakness as the article seems to hint toward. This is how the scientific method was used to get humans to the moon and send probes to the edge of the solar system and beyond. So, if we want to do science, we need to hold our claims about what is true in the world up to these features. We also need to be prepared to have all our ideas about what is true completely dismantled.
    That said we know there is a lot of bad science being done in the world today. There are far too many people using science to create a veneer of respectability and legitimacy to work that is deeply embedded in economic or political interests. They succeed partly because the world is constantly bombarding us with information and so most people don’t have the time to scrutinize their work, and too few have the skills to do so.
    If you are a young Inuk eager to bring science and traditional knowledge together, I applaud you. I believe this is a badly needed. But be careful not to succumb to the temptation to confirm specific narratives or deeply held beliefs. A good scientist and good researcher must also be a good philosopher, concerned with finding truths and discovering knowledge, not reinforcing biases, beliefs or fantasies.

  4. Posted by Tumble Door on

    Good points. Medical and food sciences are in constant verifications and discredit. Tobbaco has a history of paid for bad science. Meat has some goods and bads research. Even wildlife resaerch has many activists who are credited. Their work looks like real science but it always comes to the same conclusion.

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