Climate change research to include science, arts, and culture

University of Saskatchewan and Yukon College have been awarded a Social Science and Humanities Research Council (SSHRC) grant to make climate change research more relevant to northern indigenous communities. This research will combine the disciplines of both science and art to support community adaptation to climate change.

“This project brings together the Yukon School of Visual Arts, the Yukon Research Centre, and University of Saskatchewan’s Social Science Research Laboratory with northern communities to transform local knowledge and science into artistic interpretations of changing northern landscapes”, said Dr. Graham Strickert, Adjunct Faculty with Yukon College and Research Associate with the Global Institute for Water Security. “It is our hope that by combining science and art we will not only better engage with the community but we can creatively explore solutions to our changing climate.”

The Changing Landscapes and Northern Ways of Life project will map how permafrost thaw impacts traditional land use in the communities of Old Crow, Yukon and Jean Marie River, Northwest Territories. Researchers will use art to share existing climate change research with the community and personalize climate change science. Together the Vuntut Gwitchin, and Jean Marie River First Nations, and researchers will develop a process for incorporating traditional knowledge, western science and current community priorities into northern Indigenous community planning.

“Climate change adaptation is unique to each community and this project aims to incorporate the values, concerns and desires of these communities into a plan that is successful”, said Alison Perrin, Project Coordinator, Northern Climate ExChange, Yukon Research Centre. “It builds on the work we’ve done to understand landscape change in both Old Crow and Jean Marie River by bringing that together with community knowledge and moving towards adaptation.”

The project also involves First Nation Elders, artists, and students from the Yukon School of Visual Arts (SOVA) at Yukon College working with researchers and community members to communicate biophysical and social science research products through multi-media art pieces.

“This is a wonderful opportunity to bring First Nations’ knowledge and Western scientific methods together for the benefit of all, while undertaking artistic interpretations of such information that represent a truly interdisciplinary approach”, said Dr. Curtis Collins, Program Director and Chair, Yukon School of Visual Arts

The communities of Old Crow and Jean Marie River have recently completed climate change research projects with the YRC. This new project will support the community in further planning community adaptations.

“The only way to make sense of change is to dive into it and move with it”, said Gladys Norwegian, Chief, Jean Marie River First Nation. “This project will further support us in responding and adapting to a changing climate”.

Community artists and SOVA students will meet in Old Crow for a kick-off workshop in May. This three year project will be completed in summer of 2018.

“Climate change is a reality in our community and it is going to take creative and cooperative research like this to support us in planning for a changing climate,” said Stanley Njootli Sr., Deputy Chief, Vuntut Gwitchin First Nation. “Our project team of Elders, scientists, and artists will combine differing world views with the common goal of adapting to climate change.”

Northern Climate ExChange is one of seven key programs that operate under the Yukon Research Centre at Yukon College. The others include: Biodiversity Monitoring, Cold Climate Innovation, NSERC Industrial Research Chair in Mine Life Cycle, Resources, and Sustainable Development in the Arctic, Science Adventures, and Technology Innovation.