ADDRESSING A LONG-STANDING NEED
Nunavik Inuit have long asserted that research in Nunavik should benefit the well-being, knowledge enhancement, and social, political, and economic pursuits of Nunavimmiut, but too often this has not been the case. The National Inuit Strategy on Research articulates that research in Inuit Nunangat, the Inuit homeland in Canada, has been largely extractive and colonial – where Inuit knowledge and homelands have been used for the gain of others. Transformation in research governance is needed so that Inuit self-determination is at the centre of decision-making for research that involves Inuit communities, wildlife and environment.
Presently, Nunavik is the only region in Inuit Nunangat without a centralized system or process for the review, approval and monitoring of research projects. Research governance in Nunavik is highly fragmented and complex. Some organizations in Nunavik have a role in research management, but these roles are constrained to targeted topics and geographies by organizational mandates. At the same time, the increasing recognition of the political, environmental, and economic importance of the Arctic has led to a proliferation of research in Nunavik in recent years, which is overwhelming communities and organizations. Millions of dollars are spent on research in Nunavik, but the benefits of this significant research activity largely flow out of the region. Nunavimmiut are frustrated with results of research often not being returned, which hampers decision-making. While there is widespread research fatigue in communities, there are many topics that are important to the region that have been left unaddressed by external research agendas.
Simultaneously, the current lack of a coordinated approach to research approval in the region means researchers must individually navigate a complex jurisdictional landscape without a clear process to follow for ensuring regional and local support and approval of projects.
Nunavimmiut have determined that a new, Nunavik-led research governance organization is needed to respond to these issues and to better implement the right of Nunavik Inuit to be the drivers of research, rather than primarily being research subjects.
This has been a need for decades, and the steep rise in research activity in Nunavik has galvanized unity among Nunavik organizations to retake the lead in research governance. Simultaneously, changes in the understanding of governments, institutions and researchers regarding the importance of advancing reconciliation between Indigenous and non-Indigenous peoples, and the need to recognize and implement Indigenous rights of free, prior and informed consent, including in relation to research, have created a unique opportunity for mobilizing structural change.
Regional organizations in Nunavik entered into a formal partnership in 2020 and established a Steering Committee to guide the creation of this new organization. The Steering Committee consists of representatives from seven regional organizations – Makivik Corporation (Nunavik Inuit Land Claim Organization), the Kativik Regional Government, the Nunavik Regional Board of Health and Social Services, Kativik Ilisarniliriniq, the Kativik Municipal Housing Bureau, the Nunavik Marine Region Wildlife Board, and Avataq Cultural Institute – as well as the Inuit Research Advisor for Nunavik. Makivik Corporation has provided the Secretariat. The work of the Steering Committee has been supported by the Secretariat, consultants and a Start-Up Director.
DEVELOPING A PLAN USING A MADE-IN-NUNAVIK APPROACH
From 2020 to 2021, the Steering Committee oversaw the development of an Integrated Plan, including operational, financial, and jurisdictional assessments, for the new organization. The plan was developed iteratively under guidance of the Steering Committee and based on interviews with over 70 individuals. At the heart of the plan are the contributions, visions, and ideas of individuals from Nunavik regional and community organizations and key individuals in Nunavik leadership, who were the majority of individuals interviewed. Academic and government researchers, government permitting officials, and other Inuit Nunangat research management bodies were also engaged to provide feedback and share knowledge about research management and lessons learned. A Situational Analysis documenting the past and present landscape of research management in Nunavik, and an Implementation Plan for the establishment of the new organization, were also developed.
The Integrated Plan was approved by the Steering Committee in February 2022. As of June 2022, official approval or endorsement was received from Makivik Corporation, the Kativik Regional Government, the Nunavik Regional Board of Health and Social Services, Kativik Ilisarniliriniqthe Kativik Municipal Housing Bureau, the Nunavik Marine Region Wildlife Board, Avataq Cultural Institute, the Nunavik Marine Region Impact Review Board, the Nunavik Marine Region Planning Commission, the Regional Nunavimmi Umajulirijiit Katujjiqatigiinninga (RNUK) and Qarjuit Youth Council, and endorsement was underway at other organizations.