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Nunami iliharniq (Learning from the land): Reflecting on relational accountability in land-based learning and cross-cultural research in Uqšuqtuuq (Gjoa Haven, Nunavut)

This article has been corrected.
Publication: Arctic Science
29 December 2021


The land is where Inuit knowledge transfer has taken place for generations. Land-based programs for learning and healing have been increasingly initiated across Inuit Nunangat in support of Inuit knowledge transfer that was disrupted by colonial settlement policies and imposed governance systems. We worked with Elders in Uqšuqtuuq (Gjoa Haven, Nunavut) to develop a project to understand the connections between caribou and community well-being. They emphasized that Elder–youth land camps are the most effective means for Elders to share their knowledge, for youth to learn, and for researchers to engage in respectful research. We used the Qaggiq Model for Inuktut knowledge renewal as a guiding framework, and we followed the direction of a land camp planning committee to plan, facilitate, and follow-up on three land camps (2011–2013). The Qaggiq Model also outlines the Qaggiq Dialogue as a way of engaging in relational accountability according to Inuit context and values. In this paper, we reflect on the complexities of upholding relational accountability in cross-cultural research — as part of entering into a Qaggiq Dialogue — with particular emphasis on local leadership, ethics and safety, experiential learning, and continuity. Our intention is to help others evaluate the opportunities and limitations of land camps for their own community context and research questions.
Inuit tama’nganituqaq ilihaivalau’mata nunamii’lutik. Ublumiuřuq Inuit nunaa’ni humituinnaq nunami ilihainahualiqpaktut nunamiinirmik, inuuhirmi’nik i&uaqhinahuaq&-utiglu qauřimanirmi’nik tunihinahuaq&utik nutaqqami’nut qablunaaqaliraluaqti’lugu Inuktut ilihattiaruiralua’mata. Qauřihaqtit taapkuat hanaqatiqaq&utik inutuqarnik Uqšuqtuurmiutarnik Nunavummi, nalunaiqhittiarahuaq&utik tuktut inuuhuqattiarutauni-ngi’nik, inutuqallu nunami katiqatigiiquři’lutik i&uarniqšaittuu’mat: inutuqarnut ta’na ilihaqtami’nik ilihaijuma’lutik, inuuhuktullu ilihattiatqiřaujungna’mataguuq, qauřihaqtillu ta’na qauřihattiatqijaujungna’mata atuutiqaqtunik inungnut. Atuqtut malik&utik qařginnguarmik pivaallirutaunahuaqtumik atuqtauvaktumik atu’magit, malik&utiglu katimařiralaat inuit pitquřai’nik, pingahuiqtiq&utik nunami katiqatigiingniqaralua’mata ukiut 2011-mit 2013-mut. Taamnalu qařginnguaq atuqtauvaktuq titiraqtauhimařuq nalunaiqhihima’mat iluani qanuq qapblunaat pittiarahuarniqšaujungnariakšaita qauřihaqti’lugit inuit pitquhiagut i&uatqiřauřumik. Tařvani titiraqtut unipkaaq&utik ilaagut atqunarnia’nik pittiarahuaq&utik ilitquhiqaqatigiinngiti’lugit – inuuqatigiigahuaq&utik qařgiqaqatigiiktutut ukunanik atuutikhaqarahuaq&utik hanařut: taamna qauřiharniq inungnit aulatau’luni, pittiarnirlu qanurinnginnirlu ihumagiřauřut, nunami ilihaq&utik, kajuhiinnarungnaqtumik aturahuaq&utik atuutiqaqtunik inungnut. Qauřihaqtit tařvani unipkaaqtut atuqtami’nik ikajurniqaqu’lugu ahiinut nunami ilihaqtittinahuaqtunut ima’natut hanalutik, atuutiqattiarnia’niglu atqunarnarnia’niglu ilaagut, ahiit na’miniq hanajumagutik nunami’ni qauřihaqrumagutik ima’natut pijungna’mata.

Graphical Abstract


La terre est l’endroit où le transfert des connaissances inuites s’est déroulé depuis des générations. Des programmes d’apprentissage et de guérison fondés sur la terre ont été de plus en plus souvent mis en place à travers l’Inuit Nunangat afin de soutenir le transfert des connaissances inuites qui a été perturbé par les politiques de colonisation et les systèmes de gouvernance imposés. Les auteurs ont travaillé avec des aînés à Uqšuqtuuq (Gjoa Haven, Nunavut) afin d’élaborer un projet visant à comprendre les liens entre le caribou et le bien-être de la communauté. Ces aînés ont souligné que les camps terrestres entre aînés et jeunes constituent le moyen le plus efficace pour les aînés de partager leurs connaissances, pour les jeunes, d’apprendre, et pour les chercheurs, de s’engager dans une recherche respectueuse. Les auteurs ont utilisé le modèle Qaggiq pour le renouvellement des connaissances en inuktut comme cadre d’orientation et ont suivi les directives d’un comité de planification des camps terrestres pour planifier, faciliter et assurer le suivi de trois camps terrestres (2011–2013). Le modèle Qaggiq décrit également le dialogue Qaggiq comme une façon de s’engager dans la responsabilité relationnelle selon le contexte et les valeurs inuits. Dans cet article, ils réfléchissent aux complexités du maintien de la responsabilité relationnelle dans la recherche interculturelle - dans le cadre d’un dialogue Qaggiq - en mettant un accent particulier sur le leadership local, l’éthique et la sécurité, l’apprentissage expérientiel et la continuité. Leur intention est d’aider d’autres personnes à évaluer les opportunités et les limites des camps terrestres pour leur propre contexte communautaire et leurs questions de recherche. [Traduit par la Rédaction]


“How can we know who we are, if we don’t know about where we live?” (Aalasi Joamie in Ziegler et al. 2009). The land, often translated as nuna in Inuktut1, plays a “central role…in Inuit culture, thought and experience” (Kirmayer et al. 2008, p. 292). Land is an encompassing term used to refer not only to the physical land, but to the lakes, rivers, sea (and associated ice conditions) that are relied on for mobility and sustenance. Understanding the land comes through generations of oral history, as well as observation and experience of living in an area (Arima 1976; Thorpe et al. 2001; Bennett and Rowley 2004; Krupnik et al. 2010; Gearheard et al. 2013; Karetak et al. 2017; MacDonald and Wachowich 2018). Inuit have come to accept the land as nalunaqtuq, translated as “that which causes confusion” but implying the “uncanny” or “ineffable” nature of the land (Qitsualik 2013, p. 24). Even with careful observation one cannot know everything about nuna or sila (the environment), “…there is no end to what can be learned” (Qitsualik 2013, p. 24). Therefore, the land is where learning takes place, and the land is also the teacher.
In northern Canada, land-based programs for Indigenous learning and healing have become more prevalent, and are tailored to particular cultural practices and goals in Cree (e.g., Radu et al. 2014; Young 2015; Danto et al. 2020; Walsh et al. 2020), Dene (e.g., Ballantyne 2014; McDonald 2014; Wesche et al. 2016; Lines et al. 2019), and Inuit (e.g., Thorpe 1998; Takano 2005; Liebenberg et al. 2015; Healey et al. 2016; Obed 2017; Ollier 2019; Arviat Aqqiumavvik Society n.d. 1; Nunavut Arctic College n.d.) communities. In Inuit Nunangat (Inuit homelands), organizing land camps is partly a response to colonial policies of forced settlement, religious conversion, residential schooling, the wage economy, and imposed external governance systems. These undermined and disrupted Inuit leadership, livelihoods, language, mobility, and independence of families on the land (Damas 2002; Watt-Cloutier 2015; Tester 2017; Aariak 2018). Land camps are not about nostalgia for the way things once were, rather they are preparing Inuit youth to be grounded in their cultural knowledge. Hunting, trapping, fishing, and time on the land learning from Elders helps youth to strengthen connections to the homelands of their ancestors (Mearns 2017; Karetak et al. 2017; McGrath 2018; MacDonald and Wachowich 2018). For Inuit knowledge and wisdom about the land to live on, relationships between generations must be sustained.
[Elders’] contributions are limited by virtue of their age — their time is limited. Much of the specialized knowledge and experience of the current older generation is irreplaceable…Access to elders’ land knowledge is urgently required by Inuit youth to facilitate their own enhanced agency. (McGrath 2018, p. 318).
It is not that Inuit have to live traditional lifestyles to maintain their cultural vitality or authenticity, but that knowing their culture, land, and stories empowers young Inuit to pursue their goals in life. For youth that have grown up very differently from their Elders, time on the land is about learning to live a good life and enacting cultural continuity.
Connections to the land may no longer be necessary for survival in the sense that basic needs can be met in the settlement; however, for many Inuit the land remains intertwined with all aspects of daily life in terms of seasonal activities, food sharing, community celebrations, cultural practices, the mixed economy, and overall well-being (Wenzel 1991; Takano 2005; Pearce et al. 2011; Cunsolo-Willox et al. 2012; Gearheard et al. 2013; Dowsley 2015). The land also informs Inuit cultural skills, language, and values even as these adapt to new realities. Inuit continue to reform an imposed Western governance and education system according to Inuit ways of knowing (McGregor 2010; Walton and O’Leary 2015; Karetak et al. 2017; McGrath 2018; MacDonald and Wachowich 2018). For Inuit, connections between land and culture are fostered by inter-generational and experiential place-based learning, which is recognized as essential to community health and prosperity (GNWT 1996; McGregor 2010; Cunsolo-Willox et al. 2012; Walton and O’Leary 2015; Karetak et al. 2017; Mearns 2017; MacDonald and Wachowich 2018). Over the past 30 years, documenting oral histories and the wisdom that comes from a life on the land has become a priority for the last generation of Elders who grew up on the land (Bennett and Rowley 2004; Karetak et al. 2017; MacDonald and Wachowich 2018; McGrath 2018). In Uqšuqtuuq (Gjoa Haven, Nunavut), Bob Konana and other members of the Elders Qaggivik (Elders group) wanted to promote Inuit ways of knowing through land-based learning and collaborative research to share their knowledge of caribou in the region (Ljubicic et al. 2018a).
Uqšuqtuuq2 is a community of 1324 people who primarily identify as Inuit (Statistics Canada 2017), located on the southeastern shore of Qikiqtaq (King William Island) in the Kitikmeot region of Nunavut (Fig. 1). Our project emerged from community concerns expressed in early planning meetings around local research and education practices, and aimed to address community priorities of learning about, and strengthening, relationships between caribou, community, and well-being (Laidler and Grimwood 2010; Ljubicic et al. 2016, 2018a). Elders wanted to pass on their values, skills, and language to the younger generations, and they wanted to do this through Elder–youth land camps because:
[Learning in the community] is like reading the title of a book, and experience out on the land is like actually reading what that book is all about. Regardless of how important the information received from an Elder is, it does not take on meaning until you actually experience the context of what is taught. (pers. comm., S. Okpakok to G. Ljubicic, 2010 proposal development meeting)
Fig. 1.
Fig. 1. Map showing location of Uqšuqtuuq and the 2011 land camp at Quuqa and 2012 and 2013 land camps at Tikiranajuk (two locations of the same name, very close together). Map created by Regena Sinclair using ESRI ArcGIS Pro 2.7.0. Projected Coordinate System: WGS 1984 North Pole LAEA Canada. Basemap Source: Esri, Garmin, GEBCO, NOAA NGDC, and other contributors. 16 June 2021.
Time on the land together is important to (re)establish connections across generations, strengthen school-community relationships, and instill confidence, pride, and self-sufficiency in Inuit youth (Mearns 2017; Robertson and Ljubicic 2019). We also see land camps as an important opportunity to explore ways of strengthening cross-cultural research relationships and enhancing Inuit research capacity.
Over the past decade, we have worked together in ways that attempt to fulfill the ‘5Rs’ of Indigenous research principles: relationality, respect, relevance, reciprocity, and responsibility (Kirkness and Barnhardt 1991; Louis 2007; Wilson 2008; Kovach 2009; Absolon 2011; Smith 2012; Johnston et al. 2018; McGrath 2018; Reo 2019). Taken together, these ‘5 Rs’ of Indigenous research are the guidelines to enacting relational accountability in research (Johnston et al. 2018). “[R]elational accountability includes literally all relations… human and non-human, physical and metaphysical…” (Johnston et al. 2018, p. 13), and how we behave in these relationships is essential to carrying out “research in a good way”. Reciprocity is also central to engaging in Indigenous research, and includes serving the community, maintaining ethics and balance in research relationships, and giving back in ways that benefit the community (Kovach 2009; Ferrazzi et al. 2018; Johnston et al. 2018; McGrath 2018).
Working in an Inuit cultural context, we draw on the Qaggiq Model from McGrath (2018) as a conceptual framework and Inuit-centred methodology that prioritizes relationality as a way of contributing to Inuktut knowledge renewal. The Qaggiq Model guided our facilitation of land camps as envisioned by Uqšuqtuurmiut (people of Uqšuqtuuq). Within this model, the Qaggiq Dialogue helps to frame relational accountability for Inuit and Qablunaat3. Engaging in a Qaggiq Dialogue we reflected on the complexities of enacting relational accountability in practice, according to four key considerations: local leadership, ethics and safety, experiential learning, and continuity. Our intention with sharing what we learned is to help others evaluate the opportunities and limitations of land camps for their own community context and research questions. We aim to contribute to the growing literature on Inuit self-determination in research (Cunsolo and Hudson 2018; ITK 2018; MacDonald and Wachowich 2018; McGrath 2018; Carter et al. 2019; Henri et al. 2020; Wilson et al. 2020; Pedersen et al. 2020), as well as to encourage more transparency about the practical realities of collaborative research. In this way, we have begun a Qaggiq Dialogue amongst ourselves, and we invite others to join and contribute to a broader ongoing dialogue.

Research process

The Qaggiq model and entering into a Qaggiq dialogue

Indigenous ways of knowing emphasize land-based pedagogies and recognize how the land is interconnected with all aspects of life (Hogan and Topkok 2015; Qitsualik 2013; Wildcat et al. 2014; Young 2015; Watt-Cloutier 2015; Karetak et al. 2017; McGregor et al. 2018; McGrath 2018). This relational perspective and its attendant responsibilities are foundational in respectful cross-cultural research. Connections to land and place are recognized in Indigenous research methodologies — across many cultural and geographic contexts — as being central to (re)connecting and (re)building relationships with self, family and community, with animals and other non-human beings, and with homelands from which Indigenous peoples have been removed or may feel distanced from (Kawagley 1995; Louis 2007; Wilson 2008; Kovach 2009; Absolon 2011; Smith 2012; McGregor et al. 2010, 2018; Reo 2019). Relationships with the land are also emphasized in Inuit-specific research approaches, although these have only recently begun to be shared outside of communities (e.g., Arviat Aqqiumavvik Society n.d. 2; Price 2007; Bull 2010; Healey and Tagak 2014; Mearns 2017; McGrath 2018; Ferrazzi et al. 2019; Pedersen et al. 2020; Wilson et al. 2020).
As a cross-cultural research team, we sought an Inuit research methodology to provide a culturally appropriate framework. Rather than assuming that democracy is fostered unproblematically through cross-cultural projects, we attempted to openly discuss and attend to the power-knowledge issues surrounding representation (Jones and Jenkins 2008). We recognize that Qablunaat researchers will always be limited in the extent they can understand and work with Inuit knowledge and values, and that Inuit researchers also face challenges when attempting to convey Inuktut concepts in English and in written form. Beyond addressing empirical concerns, our approach highlights ethical research collaboration as dependent upon the entwined matters of respect for Inuit knowledge sovereignty and difference, and the imperative of relationship building (Jones and Jenkins 2008). So, when Rebecca Mearns introduced us to the Qaggiq Model as a conceptual framework that resonated with her Inuit heritage and upbringing, we adopted this model to guide early project development in 2011 (and throughout all subsequent research phases).
The Qaggiq Model was developed by Janet Tamalik McGrath (who grew up near Uqšuqtuuq, in Taloyoak4) and Mariano Aupilarjuk (a respected Inuk Elder and philosopher from Rankin Inlet5) (McGrath 2018)6. The Qaggiq Model is founded on building and maintaining meaningful and ethical relationships between generations of Inuit, and between Inuit and non-Inuit (McGrath 2018). A qaggiq is a large iglu (snow house) that was often used as a gathering place.
Qaggiq is a space for gathering, renewing relationships, refreshing skills through games, a place where stories and songs are shared, and community is affirmed. If there are tensions, they will be brought out appropriately because the wellbeing of the group relies on harmony. (McGrath 2018, pp. 300–301)
Aupilarjuk describes one particular way of building a qaggiq where four smaller igluit (plural of iglu) provide the foundation for the walls of the larger iglu; a relevant metaphor for bringing people together and renewing relationships (McGrath 2018). The four smaller igluit represent the pillars of the model, the foundation of Inuit knowledge, including: nuna (homeland), uqausiq (language), unipkaat (living histories), and iliqqusiq (culture) (Fig. 2). Within the qaggiq is the qulliq (seal-oil lamp), which was the source of warmth and light in igluit during the cold winter months. The qulliq is used to depict Aupilarjuk’s triad, where the stone base of the lamp represents inuuqatigiingniq (the collective), as it holds the wick that produces the flame that represents inuusiqattiarniq (the individual), and also holds the oil or niqiqainnarniq (the livelihood – which also feeds the flame of the individual) (McGrath 2018) (Fig. 2).
Fig. 2.
Fig. 2. Qaggiq Model iglu diagram (McGrath 2018, p. 311). A qaggiq is a large iglu (snow house). In the Qaggiq Model the qaggiq is used as a metaphor for bringing people together and renewing relationships. The qaggiq is supported by four smaller igluit (plural of iglu) representing the pillars of the model, and the foundation of Inuit knowledge: nuna (homeland); uqausiq (language); unipkaat (living histories); and iliqqusiq (culture). Inside is the qulliq (seal-oil lamp, often made of soapstone) that was the source of warmth and light in igluit during the cold winter months. The qulliq is used as a metaphor to represent Aupilarjuk’s triad where the lamp base represents inuuqatigiingniq (peoplehood, collectivity); the wick and tapqut (instrument used to tap the wick and shape the flame) represent inuusiqattiarniq (personhood, individual); and the oil and irngaut (bowl that catches the oil drippings) represent niqiqainnarniq (material well-being, livelihood, productivity) (McGrath 2018, pp. 297–312). Reproduced with permission from Janet Tamalik McGrath and Nunavut Arctic College Media.
The Qaggiq Model offers a holistic approach to supporting Inuit relational renewal.
Understanding that knowledge is relational and therefore knowledge renewal is relationship renewal, we can see that, as a society, there are historical wrongs we need to overcome, as well as systemic and structural dynamics stemming from that history – these are relational issues. (McGrath 2018, p. 313, emphasis in original)
Therefore, the Qaggiq Model also seeks to openly address power imbalances that have existed — and continue to exist — in Arctic research related to access to knowledge, perspective, motivational barriers, time and money, and ethics (McGrath 2018). The Qaggiq Model is “…a conceptual space in which qablunaat can listen, experience, and observe the strength of Inuktut renewal so that they understand more clearly what they need to support” (McGrath 2018, p. 312). In this sense, the Qaggiq Model also provides a framework for Qablunaat to learn about how to have accountable and appropriate relations with Inuit, their knowledge systems, and their traditional homelands (McGrath 2018). This is what McGrath (2018, pp. 313–314) refers to as the Qaggiq Dialogue, and this helps to frame relational accountability in an Inuit context:
Societal relationships are both inter-group and structural; thus, all those in contact with Inuktut knowledge systems need to enter into this dialogue to understand their roles and responsibilities, as this dialogue concerns accounting relationally. Relationships in this framework involve people-to-people connections — and people-to-environment and people-to-cosmos. The ethics and responsibilities within those relationships, in the Inuk way, are mapped out in language, living histories, stories, songs, ritual — in a single word: iliqqusiq. Through Qaggiq dialogue, intergenerational relationships are also renewed and restored, and inter-group and inter-agency support is established to help people act responsibly toward these Inuktut knowledge processes.
Entering into a Qaggiq Dialogue on research specifically engages the question “How are Inuit supported to achieve better access to their homeland, language, living histories, and culture, moving toward enhanced individual, collective, and productive well-being?” (McGrath 2018, p. 331). Addressing this question in any research project requires dialogue and, as McGrath (2018) emphasizes, visiting researchers cannot answer this question on their own. Our efforts to fulfill relational accountability were guided by Inuktut methodological principles articulated by McGrath (2018, pp. 361–369), including: naalangniq (listening), pittiarniq (an ethics of accuracy), ujjiqsuiniq (observing), suliniq (personal congruence). From our earliest research planning meetings to the last collaborative analysis workshops — and ongoing as new research directions evolved — we were discussing, reflecting on, (re)evaluating, and adjusting our approaches to collaborative research. For us, relational accountability began with a commitment to understanding, and following, Inuit values in research (Fig. 3).
Fig. 3.
Fig. 3. The Qaggiq Dialogue as a way of engaging in relational accountability, according to the cultural and methodological context of land-based learning and research in Uqšuqtuuq, Nunavut. (Artwork by Libby Dean.)

Addressing Uqšuqtuurmiut priorities through land camps

Inuit have critiqued research as a tool of colonization and exploitation, where Inuit narratives have primarily been controlled and represented by Qablunaat and the benefits of research have predominantly accrued to researchers themselves (Laidler 2006; Gearheard and Shirley 2007; ITK and NRI 2007; ITK 2018; MacDonald and Wachowich 2018; McGrath 2018). Uqšuqtuurmiut also expressed specific concerns relating to research in their community, such as: (i) externally driven research agendas; (ii) a lack of local input and control in planning and running research projects; (iii) how Inuit knowledge can effectively be represented and shared in written form (if at all); and (iv) the extent to which governments are respecting and incorporating Inuit knowledge in their policy- and decision-making (Laidler and Grimwood 2010). In response to these concerns, we spent a great deal of time in our 2010 planning workshop learning from Uqšuqtuurmiut about what a community-led project would look like (Fig. 3). Some key recommendations that emerged include:
research should be based on Inuit priorities;
Inuit knowledge (based on years of lived experience) should be prioritized over externally generated research (based on short periods of time in the community or field research);
too much emphasis and legitimacy is placed on written documentation, which is not the Inuit way;
wildlife research should be non-intrusive and should not involve tranquilizing or tagging animals or fish;
local people should be trained to do research, and research should be carried out using local means;
Elders should be included in the research process; and,
how research is conducted matters, research methods need to be tailored to locally identified priorities. (Laidler and Grimwood 2010, p. 3)
Following these recommendations, the planning workshop led to six guiding principles that shaped our collaborative research process, including:
working together throughout all stages of research;
ensuring local benefits and involvement;
jointly seeking funding and investing locally;
developing appropriate wildlife monitoring techniques;
engaging Elders and youth in research; and,
sharing results at all stages to contribute to decision-making (Laidler and Grimwood 2010; Ljubicic et al. 2018a).
Taken together, these recommendations and guiding principles served to establish community expectations for relational accountability in research including respecting Inuit values, ensuring practical relevance, supporting inter-generational and cross-cultural knowledge sharing, working from a place of openness and trust, and emphasizing reciprocity (Fig. 3).
In Uqšuqtuuq, Elder–youth camps were identified as the most effective means for Elders to share their knowledge, for youth to learn, and for researchers to engage in respectful research (Laidler and Grimwood 2010). In particular, land camps were seen as:
a means of sharing knowledge between generations;
a way to learn in context, on the land, and through experience;
a way to respect and value Inuit knowledge and oral history;
a way to connect classroom and on-the-land learning;
a collaborative research method to expose researchers to Inuit ways of life and learning in context;
a collaborative research method to engage community members in all stages of a research project;
a more appropriate way of understanding changes in caribou health or habitat; and,
a way to ensure more locally driven research, and more local benefits of research. (Laidler and Grimwood 2010, p. 8)
On the land it is easier for Elders to engage in their natural role as community teachers because memories and stories are evoked in place, and examples emerge through observation and experience (Simpson 2002; Fienup-Riordan 2003). Elder–youth camps are a valuable research method, used to record oral histories and Inuit knowledge as Elders are most comfortable in this on-the-land setting (Kawagley 1995; Thorpe 1998; Thorpe et al. 2001; Takano 2005; Mearns 2017). While land-based experiential learning is clearly recognized in the literature as an important way of supporting the transmission of Inuit values and skills, the emphasis tends to be on cultural learning outcomes, healing, and strengthening confidence, identity, and independence (Fienup-Riordan 2003; Barnhardt and Kawagley 2005; Takano 2005; Liebenberg et al. 2015; Healey et al. 2016; Obed 2017; Ollier 2019). Land camps have not often been explicitly explored in terms of their collaborative research potential (although, see Thorpe 1998). In this paper, we specifically reflect on land camps as supporting relational accountability and Inuktut knowledge renewal.

Author roles

Gita Ljubicic is an academic researcher who, since 2001, has been working with Inuit communities across Nunavut to address community-identified priorities. Simon Okpakok has lived in Uqšuqtuuq since 1969, when his family moved from the Utkuhigsalik (Back River) area to the settlement. He is a hunter, educator, interpreter, and Elder who has dedicated his life to learning and passing on Inuit cultural values and skills. Ljubicic and Okpakok worked together from 2010 to 2016 to coordinate all aspects of the caribou and land camp project (for more context, see Ljubicic et al. 2018a) (Fig. 3). Okpakok was a mentor, interpreter, and local research coordinator throughout the years of the project, as well as being an instructor and camp coordinator for the 2012 and 2013 land camps. Ljubicic was in Uqšqutuuq for land camp planning workshops in August 2012 and 2013, but was unable to stay long enough to attend the camps because of commitments to her young family at home. Rebecca Mearns is originally from Pangnirtung, Nunavut. She joined the team as a Master’s student in 2011, and was part of the 2011 and 2012 land camps (Fig. 3). Sean Robertson began conducting research with First Nations in British Columbia in 2005. He joined the team as a postdoctoral researcher in 2012, working with Inuit for the first time, and was part of the 2012 and 2013 land camps (Fig. 3). Both Mearns and Robertson subsequently moved into new positions (at Nunavut Arctic College and the University of Alberta, respectively), but continued to be involved in collaborative analysis workshops and knowledge mobilization activities (Fig. 3). As a cross-cultural team of Inuit (Okpakok and Mearns) and Qablunaat (Ljubicic and Robertson) researchers, we continuously discussed and reflected on our various roles and responsibilities throughout the project as part of engaging in a Qaggiq Dialogue (Fig. 3).
We have previously published on the outcomes of our research partnership, including: Uqšuqtuurmiut knowledge of caribou (Ljubicic et al. 2018a, 2018b); land-based learning and inquiry (Mearns 2017); connections between land and Inuit well-being (Mearns 2017; Robertson and Ljubicic 2019); and Uqšuqtuurmiut geographies of place and homeland (Robertson et al. 2020). Writing this paper was a long iterative process of reflection, discussion, reading, and writing on our various experiences and perspectives between 2016 and 2020 (Fig. 3). However, this is just one of several knowledge mobilization activities to share our work within and beyond Uqšuqtuuq, including: trip reports, community presentations, and results summary posters and reports developed for school, government, research, and general public audiences (see Acknowledgements). This paper is our collective effort to articulate what we have learned, and what we feel are key considerations in fulfilling relational accountability as part of a Qaggiq Dialogue in cross-cultural research. Important personal statements are quoted directly from Okpakok (from 2018 paper review discussions with Ljubicic), Mearns (2017, MA thesis), and Robertson (from his 2012 and 2013 research journal), out of respect for their individual experiences.

Making a land camp happen

Living on the land was a way of life for many Elders living in Uqšuqtuuq today. Across Inuit Nunangat, land-based seasonal activities continue to be undertaken to support food security and livelihoods. However, a range of different considerations come into play when planning an Elder–youth land camp as part of a research project, including:
support and (or) involvement from outside the community (i.e., researchers, funding agencies, other organizational partners) means different levels of accountability for funding, safety, liability, and reporting;
larger numbers of youth, from different families and with different levels of land-based experience, means developing selection criteria for participants and identifying learning goals to focus camp activities; and,
there are greater equipment and transportation needs than for typical travel with smaller groups, which may require more formal coordination and support from community organizations.
Safe and successful land camps need appropriate human, logistical, and financial capacity to be effective in meeting community and research priorities. We facilitated three land camps over the summers of 2011, 2012, and 2013 (Table 1, Fig. 3). These camps were complemented with semi-directed interviews, participatory mapping, and collaborative workshops between 2012 and 2016 (Ljubicic et al. 2018a) (Fig. 3). Before discussing our reflections on relational accountability, it important that we provide some sense of what was involved in planning, facilitating, and following-up on our land camp activities.
Table 1.
Table 1. Land camp summary (see Fig. 1 for location references).

Planning a land camp

Planning for Elder–youth land camps began at the very outset of our project, as part of defining research priorities and methods, and developing funding proposals (Laidler and Grimwood 2010; Ljubicic et al. 2018a) (Fig. 3). Logistical and financial considerations need to be identified early to ensure adequate funding, camp feasibility, community support, and local leadership to address research and learning priorities.
A land camp planning committee was established to guide all planning and decisions related to participants, location, travel, safety, and learning goals for the three land camps (Table 1, Fig. 3). Initially this involved a group of dedicated Elders, educators, and community leaders led by Elder Bob Konana, and over time this group became more formalized and was coordinated by Okpakok (Ljubicic et al. 2016). The land camps were envisioned to facilitate holistic learning about caribou, community, and well-being, including related aspects of vegetation, cultural values and skills, safety, language, and stories (Laidler and Grimwood 2010). The first land camp was organized as a pilot camp for four days in August 2011, involving 22 people who travelled by all-terrain vehicles (ATVs) to Quuqa River (just west of Uqšuqtuuq on Qikiqtaq) (Fig. 1, Table 1). The second camp was held over nine days in August 2012, involving more than 30 people travelling by boat to Tikiranajuk (southwest of Uqšuqtuuq on the mainland) (Fig. 1, Table 1). These first two land camps benefitted from strong involvement and support from the Qiqirtaq High School principal and two teachers. In the second year, we were also able to coordinate the timing and learning content so that high school students participating in the land camp received credit as a Career and Technology Studies (CTS) course. The third camp was held over nine days in August 2013, involving more than 21 people travelling by boat to Tikiranajuk (a different, but nearby location to the 2012 camp) as well as four half-day on-the-land activities close to Uqšuqtuuq after returning from Tikiranajuk (Fig. 1, Table 1). In 2013 we did not have school involvement because the timing did not match up with CTS programming, and school priorities had changed. Therefore, the land camp planning committee recommended approaching Tahiurtiit (the local Justice Committee), since they also had equipment and experience running land camps as part of their restorative justice and healing programs. In what follows, we are generally describing the planning process for the 2012 land camp, unless specific references are made to other years.
Before departing for camp, we held a series of three workshops: (i) an Elders workshop; (ii) a youth workshop; and (iii) a joint workshop with Elders and youth involved. The Elders workshop included primarily those Elders who had agreed to be camp leaders and mentors. Discussions focused on finalizing camp location and timing, support staff, and travel logistics. To help define their teaching goals, Elders were asked: What do you want to teach? What do you think is important for youth to learn? (Table 2). In this first workshop the Elders also selected youth participants based on who had expressed interest on a sign-up sheet. In making selections, Elders considered the land-based experience of each youth (i.e., wanting to provide opportunities for youth who do not get on the land much), and the maximum feasible number of participants based on funding and transportation (i.e., space in boats, available ATVs, etc.).
Table 2.
Table 2. Summary of notes from Elder and youth land camp planning workshops in Uqšuqtuuq (31 July and 1 August 2012).
Once youth attendance was confirmed, we facilitated a youth planning workshop. To help understand youth learning goals we asked: What do you want to see? What do you want to try? What do you want to learn? (Table 2). We also did introductory research and media training so youth could record their camp experiences with audio, video, or photo footage (with digital recorders and cameras purchased for the project), as well as working with GPS. Interviewing skills were also discussed and youth were encouraged to document their experiences at camp to share with others. Our intention was to support another way for youth to observe land-based learning while (hopefully) raising their interest and supporting skill development in research. Some of the recording devices were also left at Qiqirtaq High School for ongoing use in school or other local projects.
Before leaving for camp, a third workshop brought together Elders and youth from the previous two workshops, along with camp support staff and parents of youth participants. This was a chance to go over camp teaching and learning goals discussed by Elders and youth, which tended to match up very closely (Table 2). These mutual goals were used to guide camp activities. Besides a specific emphasis on caribou, overarching camp goals also included speaking Inuktitut, listening to traditional stories, learning about weather and survival skills, and other basic aspects of camp life. This final joint workshop was also important to confirm travel logistics (e.g., departure time and meeting place, who is going in what boat), go over items to bring, discuss safety during travel and at camp, and to complete consent and waiver/liability forms according to individual roles at camp.
We would like to highlight that land camps require a collective community effort. Without the equipment (e.g., large canvas tents for cooking and gathering, large capacity cooking pots) to support large groups on the land (Fig. 4A), as well as in-kind support from family members and other community organizations (Table 3), this kind of initiative would not be possible. It is a lot to ask, and many people invested their time because they feel these opportunities for Elders and youth are so important.
Fig. 4.
Fig. 4. Photos of the August 2012 land camp at Tikiranajuk (Fig. 1). (A) Canvas tents borrowed from Qiqirtaq High School; (B) Robert Hunter has help from other youth to carry his first caribou back to camp; (C) Bob Konana demonstrating how to skin a caribou; (D) demonstrating seal skin scraping with ulu; (E) Bob Konana pointing out the location of Tikiranajuk in a camp planning workshop; (F) camp participants, instructors, support staff, and family members congregating at the dock to prepare for camp departure. (Photos by Sean Robertson, Rebecca Mearns, Gita Ljubicic.)
Table 3.
Table 3. Community support that enabled land camp planning and facilitation.

Facilitating a land camp

The overarching goal for the land camps was for youth to learn from Elders about all aspects of caribou hunting and life on the land. Researchers were also learning through the experience of being on the tundra and seeing Inuit knowledge in practice. Local decision-making was in the hands of the camp leaders Konana (2011 and 2012) and Elder David Siksik (2013) and the camp coordinator Okpakok (2012 and 2013), along with all Elder instructors and support staff. They made the decisions around camp location and setup, transportation, safety, camp life, and learning activities. Learning goals varied slightly each year, according to who was involved, the size of the group, the camp location, and the weather.
The direct learning goals centred around all aspects of caribou. Youth learned through observation and experience about hunting, carrying, skinning, butchering, cooking, drying, caching, and eating caribou, as well as preparing and sewing caribou skins. Elders would take turns sharing their particular knowledge and skills through demonstrations or leading activities for youth to try. These learning opportunities did not take place according to a particular schedule. Instead, they arose in response to circumstances at hand. For example, Okpakok would take a group of youth out to look for caribou, and at the same time share ways of watching and waiting for caribou, firearm safety and technique, and the traditional skill of packing a caribou carcass back to camp on foot (Fig. 4B). Once in camp, Konana would begin butchering the caribou, explaining the steps in skinning a caribou and the associated body parts and terminology throughout the process (Fig. 4C). At a later time, Susie Konana and Salomie Qitsualik would show how to use an ulu (traditional women’s rounded knife) to scrape the skins, and how to lay them on the land for drying. Elders and support staff would also take turns with instruction, depending on the learning opportunity and what they wanted to share with the youth.
A lot of indirect learning also occurred simply by being on the land and living together outside the community. One of the main learning goals, aside from caribou, was about language. Most Elders were unilingual Inuktitut speakers7, so youth were immersed in the language and encouraged to communicate with whatever level of Inuktitut they had. Some youth were very comfortable in Inuktitut, while others understood but could speak only a little, and some youth had no Inuktitut at all. Therefore, Okpakok and other bilingual support staff also acted as interpreters at times, helping the youth, researchers, and teachers who did not have the language to follow along. Other indirect learning was about contributing to camp life wherever needed, whether setting up camp, collecting water, cooking or cleaning, and generally helping others. The weather was not always good, and caribou were not always nearby, so sometimes down time in camp was used to rest and recharge, and other times it was filled with activities. This flexibility followed practices of a land-based lifestyle, for example if you are not able to catch caribou during a hunting trip, you would then turn to other kinds of hunting or harvesting. So, other important skills were learned, including hunting small game (birds), setting fish nets, cleaning, preparing, and drying fish, scraping seal skins (Fig. 4D), learning about traditional weather forecasting, preparing and lighting the qulliq, traditional fire making with flint and heather, making a traditional drill and sling shot, sewing loon skin purses, making toys of leather and caribou bones, and making “nuna tea” from tundra plants. There was also time for games like “Inuit baseball”, which the Elders excelled at. On most nights, everyone gathered in the kitchen tent to listen to Elders telling their stories.

Following up on a land camp

Once back in town after the land camp, people were tired and generally needed time to rest, process, and settle back into daily life and routines. As such, it was sometimes hard to get people together again to discuss the camp experience. However, facilitating follow-up workshops was very important for us in learning what worked well, and what needed to be adjusted or improved for the next camp. We also held four workshops for Elders and youth after each camp, at times together and at times separate. Overall, everyone was satisfied with how the camps went. Many appreciated having the opportunity to speak and learn Inuktitut, and to be together (with Elders and with friends). For some youth, it was their first time hunting or skinning a caribou, or trying certain skills, and it was memorable experience. In addition to learning about caribou hunting and related skills, youth also identified going for long walks, helping Elders, seeing a lot of caribou, picking heather, boating, having a bonfire, and listening to stories and legends as some of the things they liked best. The follow-up workshops in 2012 also helped to refine planning for 2013. The main areas identified for improvement were: (i) having more formalized teaching/coordination of camp activities; (ii) reducing the number of youth involved; (iii) having more learning opportunities closer to town; and (iv) buying more food (see sections on Inter-generational Learning and Family Involvement).
In addition to follow-up workshops, we worked with youth to begin selecting photos and videos, and some basic editing skills and story ideas, so they could continue working with footage independently once visiting researchers were gone. We also organized a community gathering to celebrate the conclusion of each camp. These gatherings were a way to thank everyone involved and supporting organizations, as well as to share caribou and fish caught at camp, and to enjoy games, singing, and drum dancing.

Fulfilling relational accountability

The pillars of the Qaggiq Model (i.e., homeland, language, living histories, and culture) are naturally integrated in land-based learning (Mearns 2017). Considering these pillars throughout all aspects of our research contributed to community goals of strengthening inter-generational relationships8, as well as improving inter-cultural working relationships with visiting researchers. It comes down to care, respect, and responsibility, which means considering relationality beyond the individual (one-on-one) and extending to the collective and livelihood aspects of Aupilarjuk’s triad (McGrath 2018). We came to realize that when land camps are incorporated into a research methodology, and there is government or other program funding involved, limitations can arise. In the following sections, we reflect on potential ways to address existing power imbalances in Arctic research, and to fulfill relational accountability through respecting Inuit values, ensuring practical relevance, emphasizing knowledge sharing, being open and trusting, and working toward reciprocity (Fig. 3). In practice, this meant entering into a Qaggiq Dialogue with particular focus on following local leadership, addressing ethics and safety, engaging in experiential learning, and supporting continuity (Fig. 3).

Local leadership

In August 2012, we all gathered around a map as Konana pointed to the location of Tikiranajuk (Fig. 4E). He talked about the reasons for going there, traced out the route with his finger, and went over safety considerations. Youth peered over each other’s shoulders to see the places he was describing, eagerly anticipating the camp. All camp logistical and safety decisions were made by the Elders. These decisions addressed the timing and location of the camp, selection of youth participants, route planning, camp site selection, food and equipment needs, boat and fuel requirements, support staff, navigation, camp safety, and learning goals. However, local leadership extended beyond logistics and was critical to the project as a whole. Many of these same camp planning committee members provided valuable guidance on interpreting and sharing research results in the February 2016 collaborative analysis workshop (Ljubicic et al. 2018a). Establishing and following local leadership was about respecting Uqšuqtuurmiut knowledge and cultural protocols, following community priorities to set the research agenda and determine appropriate methods, and shifting the balance in research relationships to support Inuit self-determination in research (Fig. 3). This meant rethinking what reciprocity entails for visiting researchers, and how funding decisions and allocations were made.

Reciprocity for visiting researchers

Land camps were prioritized in Uqšuqtuuq more for opportunities to strength inter-generational relationships and pass on cultural values and skills than to understand caribou specifically. These goals are central in Inuktut knowledge renewal and highlight the importance of revitalizing connections between generations that have become disconnected due to colonial policies and interventions (McGrath 2018). A secondary goal was to engage in research in a different way, to cultivate more meaningful and positive working relationships between community members and researchers. For Qablunaat researchers such as Ljubicic and Robertson this is a contribution to efforts to decolonize research processes, to ensure research is relevant and beneficial for partner communities, and part of a long-term commitment to relational accountability. For Inuit researchers such as Mearns this is a way of building relationships in a different community, and both supporting and contributing to Inuit-led research. Nevertheless, our efforts to support respectful research relationships and reciprocal benefits also highlights some questions around the role of visiting researchers in fulfilling leadership, learning, or support roles.
In respect for local leadership, it was important for Ljubicic and Robertson to acknowledge their limitations in understanding Inuit knowledge and cultural practices. They had responsibilities in securing and administering research funding, supporting project development according to local guidance, and helping with logistical aspects, but there was not much they could contribute in terms of sharing knowledge of caribou. They could help connect to government biologists and scientific researchers, provide access to publicly available reports or publications, and document and share Uqšuqtuurmiut knowledge in ways that might reach government, academic, and co-management audiences. However, in the community, Ljubicic and Robertson’s roles were that of learners and support personnel. As such, humility, sense of humour, strong listening skills, and acceptance of community leadership are important characteristics for visiting researchers (McGrath 2018).
At the same time not speaking up, asking questions, or contributing to discussions means that visiting researchers may not be fulfilling their responsibilities. If visiting researchers just sit and listen, while they are following local leadership they are not be contributing to the collective. Ljubicic and Robertson undertook an iterative process of evaluating their strengths, seeking guidance, and identifying appropriate ways that they could share responsibility in the spirit of reciprocity. It was often challenging to know when and if it was appropriate to offer their own thoughts or to step back. For example, youth or other community members often turned to researchers when the decisions were meant to be made by Elders or the planning committee. These moments of discomfort and uncertainty were what really got us thinking about the limits to reciprocity. As researchers, we were continually questioning “are we doing enough to address the priorities identified in early planning meetings?”, “what are we contributing?”, and “what can we give back?” We feel the responsibility involved in cultivating research relationships and recognize that it is difficult to have a perfectly reciprocal relationship. Nevertheless, it is an important goal to strive for and one that we continued to discuss and reflect on and worked to improve.

Funding decisions and allocations

One significant benefit of community-research partnerships is access to a broader range of funding opportunities, and administrative support in managing and reporting on funds, than communities might have on their own. While this may seem to exemplify reciprocity, when funding is in the hands of southern-based researchers this can undermine local leadership (Coombes 2012). In Nunavut, research contributors are expected to be paid for their time in interviews and meetings, acting in an advisory capacity, lending their equipment, or being an instructor or support staff at a camp. These payments are considered respectful in the context of northern research, as a way of valuing peoples’ time (not paying for knowledge), and as a partial response to the legacy of exploitation of Inuit in research (ITK and NRI 2007). However, this practice of payment has been introduced according to southern institutional customs and can, at times, cause tensions or misunderstandings relating to decision-making (Dutheil et al. 2015).
In the case of land camp planning, Okpakok and the planning committee led the decision-making. Ljubicic and Robertson could not contribute much to this process because it is well outside their experience. However, when it came to decisions regarding purchasing or payments, gazes automatically turned to them to juggle budget allocations and approve planning committee decisions according to available funds. Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council (SSHRC) funding is only available to academics affiliated with a Canadian university; however, this structural limitation to local leadership was minimized through open communication and collaborative proposal development to ensure the budget was developed according to community research priorities. We agreed up front that the land camp planning committee would make all camp-related decisions and Ljubicic would ensure that associated expenses were paid. Without such open discussions and clear committee guidance, funding and budgetary decisions can undermine local leadership and community-research relationships.
There is also the potential for tensions to arise around financial compensation when time frames are altered (due to peoples’ changing availability or weather delaying planned activities), equipment is damaged or lost, food runs short, and hourly/daily rates of payment vary greatly between organizations (e.g., government, university, industry, media). In 2013, additional land-based learning activities were organized to occur close to town after the camp, so more youth and community members could participate. Initially planned for four full days, this was altered to four half days due to instructor availability and lower than expected participation. Payments were similarly reduced to reflect the actual instruction time. However, this change caused some confusion and frustration when the amounts were half of what was expected and required a lot of careful discussion and explanation in terms of how paying for time worked.
Community researchers have to contend with local perceptions around allocating funds fairly within a small community, and visiting researchers are often not aware of the internal politics that may be at play. Whether funds are held locally or externally, it can put community researchers in a difficult position as they attempt to navigate family and community dynamics regarding who is hired, whose equipment is used, what expenses are covered, and rates of payment or rental costs. Transferring funds to be administered through a local government or community organization can lessen some of these tensions, as the organization will be responsible for payments and not an individual. In our case, the District Education Authority greatly facilitated payments for Elders and support staff by issuing cheques quickly, then invoicing Carleton University for reimbursement. However, this alternative may not be possible in instances where local organizations charge administration fees (i.e., funders may not allow such expenses, or it may not be affordable within the budget). Whoever has to approve the final use of funds may experience challenging moments no matter how collaborative the original budget-setting exercise was. If tensions or disagreement arise, research team members who live in the community feel the repercussions most strongly. Therefore, it is important to be very clear at the outset about rates for time dedicated to work in various capacities, and to discuss and adjust as needed with transparency throughout.

Ethics and safety

Research involves the negotiation of power relations that have historically been defined to support the interests of non-Indigenous visiting researchers and their institutions (Kovach 2009; McGregor et al. 2010, 2018; Smith 2012; ITK 2018; McGrath 2018). Research ethics are one means of partly addressing this colonial legacy of research; however, when working in a cross-cultural context, what might be ethical from one perspective may not be appropriate or acceptable from another (Bull 2010; Nickels and Knotsch 2011; McGrath 2018; ITK 2018). We had diverse ethical obligations to fulfill in relation to the Carleton University Research Ethics Board, Carleton University Risk Management Program, funding agencies (e.g., SSHRC, Kitikmeot Inuit Association (KIA), Northern Scientific Training Program), and community partners (e.g., Elders Qaggivik, Qiqirtaq High School, Hamlet of Gjoa Haven, parents). Balancing these obligations is not easy, especially where institutional and community ethical norms do not align. Ethics and safety were essential to land camps (Fig. 3), and several important considerations arose around Inuit approaches to safety, family involvement, and recording camp experiences.

Inuit approaches to safety

Travel out of the community on the land, and especially over water and ice (lake ice or sea ice), is inherently dangerous. Therefore, travel for research purposes requires not only an informed consent process for being part of a project, but also discussions of safety and liability. As a Carleton University faculty member, Ljubicic went through the standard ethical review process and included a consent form that provided options for oral or written consent for selections related to confidentiality/attribution, use of information, and data storage and security. In addition, Ljubicic was obligated to develop a waiver and liability form to ensure that all land camp participants were aware of potential dangers, to encourage them to seek their own insurance coverage, and to clarify the responsibilities of all involved. Therefore, land camp instructors, staff and youth participants also needed to complete a waiver form concerning on-the-land hazards, which relieved the university, researchers, as well as Elders and camp staff of any legal liability. While we can see the usefulness of such an instrument, it must seem strange to community members to be asked not to blame southerners for potential accidents given that they would already recognize that such responsibility can only fall to local experts: Elders and active hunters.
Although the waiver and (or) liability form is an important university institutional protocol, it is completely at odds with Inuit approaches to responsibility and safety. It is Inuit belief that the more you talk about something, the more likely it is to happen. “In the Inuk way, observation of what is is more important than determining what could or should be…[while] the need for certainty seems to permeate qablunaaq culture” (McGrath 2018, p. 366, emphasis in the original). This does not mean that Inuit do not consider safety. As Okpakok explained (in 2018, pers. comm.), this means that Inuit make all efforts to be prepared, to be careful, and to pass along their navigational and survival skills to others while on the land:
Inuit have always been taught to take what comes, because a person can go through a danger [they know it can even take their life], it’s part of life…it’s always in their mind they can run into a dangerous situation…we live with the unexpected, and we are taught to expect that.
Therefore, talking about all potential dangers — as listed in the waiver and liability form — is seen as inviting these things to happen, and is contrary to Inuit custom.
Waiver and liability forms were discussed during the last planning meetings before leaving for camp, and this was often met with one of two reactions: quiet giggling or good-natured eye rolling and questions of “where do we sign?” It was only in the third year (2013) when Elders let on that their quiet laughter was about the absurdity of trying to predict all possible horrendous things that could happen while travelling or at camp. As Okpakok explained in the 2018 paper review meetings:
Filling out a form and signing seems funny. Dangers are not new, they carry it inside them. They know the dangers can be anywhere they go…safety is always a concern for Inuit…and they are well aware that things go wrong. They know what to expect and what to watch for even before they go, so how does a form help with that? So they look at it as a joking issue. They wonder why should I write my name on a paper? It’s all up here [in their head], will signing help me to be a better person in terms of overcoming a barrier or danger?
So Elders, instructors, staff, youth, and parents often ended up signing without any questions, and usually after only a brief scan or discussion. Ultimately, they will follow — and it is most appropriate to follow — Inuit safety protocols, which are based on long-term experience and knowledge of the area and weather according to season and mode of travel.
Having these written forms and discussing them up front was especially awkward for Mearns, who is used to working within Inuit cultural protocols where consent is implied through participation and sharing of knowledge or experience. And although Okpakok is an experienced interpreter and is used to “living in two worlds” and being a community-research liaison, he feels uneasy at times when institutional protocols and Inuit customs do not align. Imagine explaining to your sister, grandson, or brother-in-law the elements of a consent or waiver form when they are in the meeting, contributing to planning, and ready to engage in camp activities! Uqšuqtuurmiut have become accustomed to many forms of paperwork according to research, school, and government protocols. Okpakok (2018) explained why forms tend to be dismissed as Qablunaat protocols, and yet are accepted as a necessary formality to participate:
[Community members] understand the need for formality, but the discussion of that form is not what is going to keep people safe on the land, it’s the knowledge of the people leading the trips…Inuit have always carried openness, they’re open-minded people…They’re not particularly concerned about signing a paper…by coming to a meeting or an interview they have already agreed.
Learning about these community perspectives, it is worth considering the enduring weight of Inuit practices of consent and liability. It appears that whether consenting to trust researchers with their words, or Elders with their safety on the land, it is the relationship at the time and the trust in the group built on knowledge sharing and joint planning, that truly inform consent to participate (Fig. 3). The forms then become a secondary formality, a way to document consent so that the newcomers (in our case southern-based visiting researchers) know that they have an agreement. We would suggest that researchers thereby take the development of relationships as the starting point for address ethical and safety issues and recognize that consent and (or) waiver forms are only a small step in the process that fulfills institutional accountability; they do nothing for relational accountability if not backed up with community engagement. In fact, shifting away from consent forms, towards oral and iterative approaches to consent (Oberndorfer 2016), as well as community-research agreements (Wilson et al. 2020), may be more appropriate for negotiating research roles and coming to consensus on responsibilities (see ITK and NRI 2007; Ferrazzi et al. 2019; Arviat Aqqiumavvik Society n.d. 2).

Family involvement

Travel and time on the land typically involves family members of all ages, according to seasonal activities. In this project, a group of Elders took on instructor and mentor roles, and they were supported by younger hunters and camp staff (e.g., cooks, boat drivers, guides). In some cases, this meant children or grandchildren were left at home, and parents and (or) spouses would be in the community while their children and (or) spouses were taking part in the camp. Based on the number of land camp participants, we estimated the number of boats, equipment, food, and fuel needed; however, on the day of departure Elders showed up with other family members, and parents of youth as well as spouses of camp staff showed up in their own boats to join the group (or met the group at camp later) (Fig. 4F). This was wonderful to see in terms of family connection, support, and eagerness to learn, and reflects the Inuit way of travelling and learning on the land. It should not have come as a surprise given the nature of family travel, but it was not something that had been discussed in the planning meetings. Because these camps were part of a research project, it raised some concerns related to ethics and safety considerations. It led to some awkward conversations at the time, with Ljubicic feeling obliged to clarify responsibilities for family members who were not officially involved in the camp. Thanks to the good-natured humour of Okpakok and Konana, these concerns were quickly diffused: “of course family members are the responsibility of those who choose to bring them along!” This is yet another example of how concerns around academic policies related to ethics and safety can get in the way of cultural practices. These can be difficult conversations, but they are very important to have at the outset of a project to avoid surprises later.
Sharing of things like food and equipment is an important part of Inuit custom and is generally a way of being welcoming and helping each other; however, with the arrival of unexpected camp participants, some practical considerations arose in relation to having an adequate supply of food, fuel, and camping equipment. For example, in 2012 we budgeted and bought food for the number of Elders, support staff, youth, and researchers that were formally involved in the camp (Table 1). We did not anticipate the number of additional family members who may join the group at different times. There was no shortage of country food since there was good hunting and fishing near camp, however, by the end of the camp there ended up being a shortage of store-bought food, such as soup mix, rice, and pasta that are often used in cooking country food. This resulted in limited meal variety and was frustrating for some group members. Therefore, to support and be prepared for sharing practices, it is important to know the approximate total numbers of people prior to a camp (beyond formal participants).

Recording camp experiences

Recording learning experiences at camp is another important aspect of our reflections. Youth who attended the land camp were encouraged to record their experiences not only to contribute more diverse audio and video footage for research purposes, but to help compile video clips for educational purposes and creative project reporting to the community. Youth are very adept with digital technologies, and they embraced this opportunity by recording detailed sequences of caribou butchering, scraping seal skins, starting a fire with flint and heather, drying caribou skins, evening storytelling, and lighting a qulliq. However, they also recorded random conversations around camp including games, youth acting silly, and daily activities like cooking. These were all part of the camp experience, but the challenge arises when considering what is part of research, what is appropriate to share, and what is ethical when including visitors to camp. If research involves a land camp methodology, it does not mean that all experiences can be recorded and shared freely. There are important considerations around individual privacy and preferences, as well as cultural protocols. For example, in 2013 a film crew came to camp to shoot footage for a documentary TV series. In this case the Elders clearly stated protocols regarding not filming people while they are eating; not setting up specific scenes (i.e., interfering with learning activities); and ensuring sensitive representation of hunting practices. It is important to discuss and establish such protocols up front within the group, as well as with others who may join from outside the group.

Experiential learning

Inter-generational learning

Learning is relational, and therefore, respectful relationships must be in place to facilitate inter-generational learning and knowledge transmission. Being on the land supported relationship-building and knowledge sharing (community knowledge mobilization), insofar as the caribou provided the context for Elders and youth to come together to teach and to learn (Fig. 3). Inuit ways of learning are grounded in everyday experiences and observations that were essential to life on the land (Thorpe et al. 2001; Karetak et al. 2017; McGrath 2018; MacDonald and Wachowich 2018). This kind of experiential learning continues to be emphasized for youth today; gaining skills involves watching, listening, and practicing what they learn from extended family and other community members. This also underlines the importance of being inclusive of all ages in land-based learning, especially the middle generation of adults who are most affected by residential school experiences (McGregor 2010; Walton and O’Leary 2015; Watt-Cloutier 2015; Healey et al. 2016; Karetak et al. 2017; Aariak 2018). Elders emphasized the importance of documenting Inuit knowledge to be more accessible in schools and for government decision-makers (Ljubicic et al. 2018a). While this documentation is valued, it is recognized as being limited. Uqšuqtuuq Elders constantly reiterated that youth cannot learn by just reading or talking about things, they need to learn by doing — through first-hand experience (Mearns 2017; Robertson and Ljubicic 2019). Developing skills and a relationship to the land remain important if youth are to act “in a safe and responsible way” and avoid reliance on the welfare system (McGrath 2018, paraphrasing Aupilarjuk, pp. 316–318). Uqšuqtuuq youth also saw the land camps as an important learning opportunity, many of whom did not often have the chance to go camping, hunting, or travelling on the land with their families. So, being immersed in camp life was not only an occasion to learn about caribou, hunting culture, survival skills, and travel safety, it was perhaps most importantly a chance to (re)connect with close and distant relatives, and to learn from Elders (Mearns 2017).
“The land holds a great deal of importance for Inuit in the everyday life. Learning took place on the land long before the four walls of a modern classroom. Our culture, our knowledge and our worldview have been shaped through knowledge of the land.” (Mearns 2017, p. 90). To be in a relationship with the land and its provisions, Inuit youth need training to acquire the land competence and knowledge that has been disrupted by mandatory schooling (McGrath 2018). As a former principal, Okpakok (2018) highlights that for Inuit “experience is the most productive teaching material, because without experience, hearing doesn’t help much to learn. With experience you gain knowledge that helps you to be more aware of what you are doing.” This sentiment was echoed by Elder Jonathan Hiqiniq during a 2012 interview:
Although [Inuit youth] are taught in the schools, verbally teaching the custom and culture does not provide any learning knowledge of [for] a young person. The only concrete learning can take place is when the person is observing what’s been done and actually doing it themselves, [this] would create an unforgettable learning experience.
For some youth, the land camp was their first time harvesting a caribou, cleaning and drying seal and caribou skins, or lighting a fire using traditional implements. These are memorable moments that the youth will carry with them.
To learn the skills, and associated terminology, for hunting, butchering, preparing skins, sewing, or preparing the qulliq, youth need to partake in the activity and try things themselves.
The land is where our language and culture live, it is the source of knowledge, learning, and teaching. Trying share about the culture and language while sitting in a room, in a building, in the community often made it more difficult for some to know what to talk about. Being on the land can have a significant role when it comes to the continuation of our culture and our language. (Mearns 2017, p. 107)
For example, when asking about Inuktitut terminology during interviews, the Elders would say it was very difficult for them to recall important points or specific terms without being on the land. Once they were out at camp and caribou were harvested, it would all come back to them. The Elders naturally incorporated specialized Inuktitut terms as they skinned and butchered the caribou, explaining what they were doing, pointing out different body parts and their uses as they went. Because this was the way the Elders learned growing up, it was easier for them to convey their knowledge, language, and skills while on the land; memories and stories would come back to them through this experience (Fig. 4C). This embodied knowledge cannot be fully conveyed in writing, interviews, meetings, or classes. Inter-generational learning and knowledge transmission occurs through relations with people and the land, with practice, repetition, and time (Mearns 2017; McGrath 2018).
Land-based learning is not only about the skills it takes to be on the land; there are lessons and associated values that can be applied in all aspects of life. Storytelling at camp was an important way to impart lessons, as well as bring people together to pass time in bad weather or to provide evening entertainment. The lessons that can be found within some stories are not always explicit. In a 2012 interview, Elder Mary Kamookak explained that it is up to the listener to draw these lessons out.
When I was growing up, I’ve been counselled by my parents on how to live a good life, how to live a healthy life as well, perhaps one thing that can be used is storytelling to young people. Because storytelling has information that can be used to provide knowledge to a young person how to live a good life, a life that’s lived in harmony with other people, and how to share what the person had and how to respect people who are less fortunate than they are. Perhaps they may not be able to take it into consideration at the time, but it would give them something to remember in the long run.
Mearns (2017, p. 89) also remarked about the use of humour in the stories that the Elders told:
Humour and laughter, I think, are very important to building relationships. Telling stories and laughing together brought me closer to many of the Elders. Although many of the Elders shared stories of hardships they were also able to tell stories filled with humour, perhaps a mechanism for resilience and coping.
The lessons shared in stories were often about living a good life, passing on Inuit values, and being a good person. Watt-Cloutier (2015, p. xv) eloquently summarizes this point: “In our culture, hunting has taught us to value patience, endurance, courage and good judgement. The hunter embodies calm, respectfulness, caring for others.”
Strengthening of inter-generational relationships and opportunities for immersive learning on the land are also facilitated by a greater sense of freedom and connection felt by everyone when they are together on the land. The Elders involved in the camps grew up on the land, some not far from where the land camps took place, so they would express feeling “at home” and much more “free” and “light” when on the land, compared to being in the community (Mearns 2017; Robertson and Ljubicic 2019). Okpakok expanded on this in 2018 paper review meetings:
Being here [in the community] the tension is very high, not that we want it that way, but it’s different, living in a four-walled house sort of becomes a barrier. But when we go out on the land that barrier disappears, and we’re home on the land, we can freely go in and out of our tent and walk wherever we want, just to look at the land…when we know we’re going out on the land, the feeling of energy is there because we are land people, that’s where our home is.
The sharing of living histories has been significantly impacted by the wage economy, along with the regulated timeframes of work and school routines now part of everyday life in Inuit communities (McGrath 2018). For Elders, being on the land was linked to well-being, both through building relationships with others and through a general sense of feeling good while on the land (Mearns 2017; Robertson and Ljubicic 2019). The youth also found it refreshing to be away from the community and the everyday norms of community living (Mearns 2017). Robert Hunter, one of the youth participants in the 2012 camp, explained the land camp experience as a reciprocal relationship between Elders and youth:
It’s sort of refreshing, getting off of work and all the things that you normally do every day. It’s a good change, to get some fresh air out on the land, and when you’re out there helping the Elders, it gives you a good feeling that you’re doing something for them after all they’ve done, they’ve done so much to teach you, when you were younger. It’s basically giving back to them what they gave to us.
Despite the excitement around living and learning together on the land, there were also some challenges in communicating in Inuktitut. Some youth felt intimidated to speak Inuktitut as they were worried that they may not know how to say something properly. Discussing her experience when teaching at Nunavut Sivuniksavut, Mearns (2017, p. 104) talks about some potential reasons for this hesitation:
The reluctance to speak Inuktitut seems to come from the fear of being ridiculed for their pronunciation, or a perception that they lacked the vocabulary to hold a conversation… Building pride in their culture and identity, the students strive to learn more about where they come from and the language that is intertwined in our culture.
So there was a need for translation at times, often provided by Okpakok, which can present a challenge in how the teachings are interpreted. “Language is a reflection of the worldview and metaphorically expressed differently across different language systems (i.e., between English and Inuktitut). Inuktitut cannot be replaced in its usefulness to convey Inuit/Inuktitut worldviews” (McGrath 2011, p. 216).
Perhaps because of language barriers, shyness, or lack of confidence, many youth were also reluctant to ask questions of the Elders during land camps. As Mearns (2017, pp. 82–83) explains:
Inuit youth often grow up being reminded not to ask too many questions, rather one is expected to listen well and observe to learn. One cannot be fully observant and listening carefully when they are talking too much or interrupting the learning process. The reluctance to ask questions also could come from a level of comfort on the part of the students. Some of the students were not confident in their proficiency in Inuktitut…As we got into the last evening at the camp in 2011, the students began asking questions. As the relationships strengthened and the youth became more familiar with the Elders and the other camp staff, you could see that they were more comfortable in asking questions. The youth began to ask about specific stories or topics that they were interested in hearing about. This also helped the Elders and they were not always sure what the youth wanted to learn more about.
In workshops following the land camp in 2012, youth described how they now felt more comfortable talking with the Elders and trying to speak Inuktitut. Being on the land together was a process of healing and connecting that involves (re)building relationships to reclaim language, culture, and pass on worldviews. Youth were immersed in learning in the context of life on the land, and with more opportunity to work hands-on with Elders they gained confidence in asking questions related to their areas of interest.
Another challenge was related to the number of youth involved. It was great to have so many youth interested in participating, but with large groups the Elders sometimes found it difficult to teach skills, demonstrate, or keep youth engaged. After the 2012 camp, the Elders expressed a preference for smaller numbers in the future, and while at camp to break into groups of a few youth at a time (or even one-on-one). They felt this would promote more direct interactions, and more opportunities for hands-on learning (e.g., with only so many skins or ulus available). An associated challenge with this approach is that costs then become very high given the student:instructor ratio, and it can be harder to justify to funding agencies. One idea to accommodate more youth was to have more land-based learning opportunities take place closer to town (i.e., a short ATV ride from the community). This makes it easier for interested youth or other community members to drop in because it is more accessible, and alleviates some of the costs and logistical constraints (i.e., supplies and equipment) associated with distant locations. In an effort to engage more community members, we implemented this idea in 2013, with four half days of learning activities held at Swan Lake just outside of Uqšuqtuuq, as well as in the Qaggivik Centre in town.
Through spending time on the land together, Elders and youth now share an enhanced connection through their common experience. Interactions on the land may provide an important catalyst needed to foster deeper ongoing connections; however, this is not achieved in one-off or occasional camps. There needs to be continuity in land-based learning opportunities through family and community. The land provided a place for generations to come together, and thus to pass on teachings. Getting to know each other better may help different generations feel more comfortable in working, learning, or just talking together in the community. However, this also means finding ways to teach the cultural values in new contexts and to translate them in creative ways to be relevant in settlement life.

Inter-cultural learning

The typical Inuit reaction to new researchers coming to town is “look who’s here (they are odd); how can we make better relationships?” (McGrath 2018, p. 333). Despite the extractive and exploitative history of northern research, Inuit see the value in research, and there remains tremendous openness to collaborative research relationships (ITK and NRI 2007; ITK 2018). In part, this is because of a general reliance on research partnerships to access funding and capacity in certain research areas (McGrath 2018).
It’s good to know that scientists are now beginning to realize the knowledge of Inuit, and that [Inuit] need to be part of these studies, because it has not happened for a long time, and Inuit knowledge has not been recognized for many years…Typically scientists come up north and do their thing and then tell Inuit what to do based on what they learned, but Inuit have always carried that knowledge in terms of animal movements [as well as health and habitat]. (Okpakok to Ljubicic in 2018 paper review meeting)
So experiential learning on the land is also critical for visiting researchers to understand the context of how land, language, culture, and living histories are intertwined in learning and relationships at the land camps (Fig. 3). Elders know full well that the depth and nuance of knowledge and stories they share in interviews cannot really be understood by researchers who have never been on the land or been around caribou. Elders nevertheless share their knowledge because they want to be heard, because they want to be taken seriously, and they want their knowledge documented (even if in limited ways) for future generations (Laidler 2006; Ljubicic et al. 2018a). But they also want their knowledge to be respected, contextualized, and conveyed in a manner true to their intentions. So while the primary emphasis of land camps was for Elder–youth relationships and inter-generational learning, it was also recognized as a valuable cross-cultural learning experience. For Inuit researchers, being on the land is a part of life and is a familiar methodological approach to acquiring knowledge and fulfilling relational accountability (see Mearns 2017). For Qablunaat researchers this is likely not so familiar, thus we want to discuss some particular challenges that may arise in this context, including structured/unstructured learning and the limits to Inuit knowledge documentation.
With the 24-h summer daylight hours, sense of time and scheduling is altered. There is no more adherence to the clock, time follows the rhythms of the weather, the animals, and the people in camp. It takes a few days for people to adjust to camp life, with a strong need for rest and rejuvenation. Elders were up early, and youth slept in, so camp meals and activities were prepared when everyone was ready. This can be a challenging adjustment for researchers used to scheduling meetings, interviews, travel times, and so on. But no such schedule can be enforced on the land, mostly because weather is the ultimate decision-maker on travel and hunting safety. The Elders would advise camp staff and youth on coordinating sleeping and eating times, decide when to go look for caribou, or to demonstrate certain skills and provide youth opportunity for practice. Moreover, when caribou appeared nearby, this would result in a change of itinerary as a handful of hunters would quickly head off. Sometimes another group of caribou would appear in another direction, and before you knew it, the camp was half emptied and its activities suspended. A visiting researcher cannot lead these things, they need to follow camp rhythms while being prepared for activities and excursions at any time without much notice. However, at times it was difficult to get everyone involved as a group without some form of collective sleeping and eating routine (even if not at a specific time). Therefore, after the 2012 camp, Elders and support staff identified that perhaps a bit more structure may be helpful for camp life and learning activities.
Visiting researchers were welcomed into camp life and land skills were shared openly and freely. Audio and video documentation were encouraged by Elders as important ways of recording some of the contextual aspects of caribou knowledge both for this project as well as for future community use. Despite this support, Robertson remarked at the 2013 camp that:
It really feels, for me as the researcher, that when I pull out the equipment, it is like “OK, it is research time”! Everyone suddenly stops and stares at me…but it was not like I felt like I was intruding. At [pre-camp] planning meetings, perhaps we needed to more fully explain that the recording of activities will occur for the purposes of the project and the community repository, and that folks should just try to ignore the equipment as much as possible.
Furthermore, it can be challenging for a Qablunaat researcher to know when or if to participate, to ask questions, or to document activities. When the Elders were teaching, Robertson took on a more observational and support role out of respect for inter-generational learning. This stance was partly in response to youth learners immediately calling upon him to take a turn at whatever skill had just been explained. At times this role felt in tension with the participatory spirit of the project insofar as he felt he might be perceived to be simply “studying” camp learning and not experiencing the Elders’ teachings in his own way. In regard to the latter, the documentation of activities and Inuit knowledge also seemed at times in contrast to the practical focus of the camp. In 2012, Robertson’s field notes juxtaposed the intensity of the camp experience with the work of research:
Everyone seems to only be thinking about the camp: How wonderful to have this [time] bracketed out from everyday life…an intense slice of time for us all, the bay, the fields, the sky, the food, the air…It is [therefore] an odd feeling to “retreat” to my tent to reflect on camp learning experiences through journaling.
To learn in context on the land is to be fully immersed in camp life. If researchers remove themselves to discretely record thoughts, then they potentially miss out on that experience and the development of relationships.
When a new person comes into the community (from the outside), especially those interested in learning from Inuit knowledge, Okpakok (2018) explained that it helps to “…remind [community members] of the skills that they are upholding (that they may be hiding), and [their knowledge] comes out.” An opportunity to be involved in a land camp as part of a research project brings out excitement “because [community members] are going back to their homeland”. He talked about Uqšuqtuurmiut being quite comfortable answering any questions that are asked by researchers. However, Okpakok also noted the difficulty Uqšuqtuurmiut have in answering questions about:
…the inner part of being an Inuk [because Inuit culture] is very, very deep. The bottom depth of being who we are is something that is very touchy and difficult to explain, because we are different people with a different culture, different living standards, living in a different environment that can be very harsh at times, but working together is what makes it all happen, sharing is what provides survival.
This reflects McGrath’s (2018, p. 327) discussion of iliqqusiq (culture), that “[it] is not an intellectual concept — it must be felt to be understood, and this kind of understanding only comes from prolonged formative immersion within social, spiritual, and practical environments” (on iliquhiq in an Uqšuqtuuq context, see Robertson et al. 2020).
For Robertson, the practical and lived qualities of Uqšuqtuurmiut knowledge and its cultural depth were briefly glimpsed during the two land camps in which he participated. In 2012, he watched Konana undertake several meticulous demonstrations of the skinning and butchering of caribou (Fig. 4C). Konana described caribou physiology and his techniques using specialized Inuktut terminology as he went through each careful motion. This lesson, deftly executed in less than twenty minutes, exhibited the efficiency of skill and complexity of understanding essential to survival in the Arctic throughout the generations. Another example of practical knowledge with deep links to Inuit culture emerged when we heard from community members about how time on the land supports Inuit (emotional) well-being (Mearns 2017; Robertson and Ljubicic 2019). When Okpakok drew Robertson’s attention to the tent tops one bright August morning in 2013, he learned of another example where hands-on experience intersects with wider cultural understandings. Over coffee, Okpakok explained that when these particular little birds reached the age when they are talented enough to perch on the tent tops, it means that the caribou skin is perfect for clothing. Recollecting the centrality of caribou to Uqšuqtuurmiut, as well as Konana’s demonstrations a year earlier, these little birds suddenly took on greater meaning for Robertson. These experiences inspired humility in the recognition that research — no matter how thorough and contextualized — can only gesture toward grasping Inuit knowledge. In the Uqšuqtuurmiut context, community contributors (including the most respected Elders) would frequently preface their responses to our questions by explaining the limitations of their knowledge. As Konana said to Robertson at the start of the 2012 land camp: “We will try to show something of what our ancestors knew…” The skills and understandings needed to support a hunting culture cannot be effectively documented or shared on paper (Watt-Cloutier 2015; Karetak et al. 2017; McGrath 2018; MacDonald and Wachowich 2018); they need to be seen, experienced, heard, felt, and tasted over time and in different spaces. Moreover, by being relationally accountable, visiting researchers can begin to see the land more fully. Tikiranajuk is very much a landscape of knowledge for Konana, Okpakok and others, but one in which researchers such as Robertson have barely begun to find their footing. For researchers, these embodied experiences nevertheless helped to better understand and represent what was shared in interviews and workshops, even if it is difficult to articulate how much and in what specific ways.
The few examples shared above are just some of the land camp experiences that helped us to recognize the boundaries of what visiting researchers can express in discussions and publications about Inuit geographies. In other words, they highlight the situatedness of knowledge claims. These limitations arise due to visiting researchers’ different cultural backgrounds, and to the short time spent experiencing life on the land and building relationality with the land and people. These barriers to understanding are further amplified when speculating on how readers — who have never been exposed to on-the-land relationality — come to understand our publications. Even though we reviewed of all our collective interpretations with Okpakok and other community contributors prior to publication as a means of enacting pittiarniq (the ethics of accuracy, see McGrath 2018), our knowledge claims remain limited (Rose 1997). The partiality of knowledge is critical to acknowledge not only for ethical and empirical reasons, but also for political ones (Rose 1997; Jones and Jenkins 2008). Uqšuqtuurmiut want to share their knowledge in different forms to convey important messages and ensure that it is included and respected in Nunavut decision-making, education curriculum, and beyond. However, if the social justice goals of cross-cultural research are to be achieved, it is imperative that universalizing, colonial types of knowledge are replaced with ones which point to the gaps in knowledge (Rose 1997) and affirm Inuit self-determination over Inuit knowledge (Jones and Jenkins 2008). To support Uqšuqtuurmiut and researchers’ contributions to public discourse, and Inuktut knowledge renewal, then knowledge claims must not only underline difference. Rather than assuming a liberal right of access, any claims must also emerge from relationships and the decisions of Inuit about what to share (Jones and Jenkins 2008). As a consequence, our knowledge claims are partial as opposed to global or totalizing. Therefore, we encourage researchers, teachers, and wildlife managers, among others, to take up community engagement, relationship-building, and opportunities for experiential learning. When combined with situated knowledge, as we have described it, they will be better placed to respectfully connect to the deeper meanings and lessons, both cultural and political, that Elders and community members wish to convey.


In early planning meetings, the community interest in holding land camps was partly as a culturally appropriate research method, but mostly was related to the broader goal of establishing regular seasonal, semi-annual land camps for Uqšuqtuuq youth. There are already a number of land-based learning opportunities run each year through Qiqirtaq High School, Tahiurtiit, the KIA, and Parks Canada Inuit Guardians Program. Some families also invite community youth to join them during hunting or fishing trips, providing informal opportunities for land-based learning. There is tremendous experience in the community to run land camps locally; however, it can be a challenge to maintain the continuity of such opportunities over time. To regularly facilitate land camps, consistent local leadership, funding, and youth engagement are required (Fig. 3).

Local leadership

There is no shortage of experienced community members who can — and who really enjoy — taking youth on the land; however, someone needs to take responsibility for the funding applications and reporting, selecting youth and instructors, organizing equipment and supplies, and addressing safety considerations. Organizing multi-day camps, especially those involving travel far from the community with large groups, is a huge undertaking. It relies on the initiative and dedication of a few individuals, and often the same people over time. Even in schools where land-based learning is encouraged a part of the Nunavut curriculum, land camp opportunities for students rely on teachers who are willing to take on this additional kind of organization. Thus, leadership can be highly variable over the years, and so too then are the durations, locations, and types of opportunities available to youth.
Members of the Elders Qaggivik were critical to the research planning meeting in 2010, and the ad hoc camp planning committee meetings in 2011 and 2012; however, without sufficient funding to maintain their building and administrative support, this group was inactive from 2013 to 2016. Since 2017, the Elders group has been reinvented as Tuttaqvik, and it is active again in leading cultural learning activities within and outside the community. Critical to their ongoing leadership is continuity of dedicated funding for their cultural programs, and dedicated space to host activities in town and equipment and infrastructure for land-based activities. Whether through strong school or local organization leadership, the consistency of dedicated individuals in leadership roles was locally defined as essential to the long-term continuity of land-based learning opportunities. Accordingly, turnover of key people in leadership or administrative roles was identified as one of the main challenges to continuity.


Another significant challenge to the continuity of community leadership in running land camps is the high cost involved when organizing transportation, stipends (for Elders, instructors, guides, support staff), travel and safety equipment, food, supplies, and fuel for large groups. As Elder Donald Kogvik stated in an interview in 2012:
I’m grateful for the land program that’s being offered now because it is a good way of teaching our young people who are our future generation. And nowadays it’s difficult to teach Inuit culture without provision of a funding…So I’m very happy that the land program is being offered…because our future generations need to hold onto our culture and tradition…We Elders are getting fewer, who have the knowledge of Inuit culture and tradition…[we need to take our youth] out on the land and teach them the skill and knowledge, tradition and culture.
Although land-based learning is part of Nunavut curriculum, there is no core funding for these activities and schools must apply for external funds to support travel beyond day trips. Many activities can be done on the land not far from the community, but multi-day trips and further travel (especially to the mainland) are very expensive (i.e., tens of thousands of dollars) and involve many logistical and safety considerations. There are a number of programs within the Government of Nunavut (e.g., in Departments of Education, and Culture and Heritage), as well as Nunavut Tunngavik Incorporated, the KIA, among others, that have funds specifically available to support community-led land camps. However, they are annual programs and funds are always limited. We heard over and over (in Uqšqutuuq, and from previous experience in other Nunavut communities) about the incredible time and administrative burden that community organizers take on when applying for these programs. The application process itself can be daunting for community members if they are not familiar or comfortable with completing application forms, justifying the importance of the camp, and developing a budget. On top of that, once funding is secured, there are responsibilities for allocating funds, tracking all spending, and reporting on the use of funds. If the reporting of expenditures and program outcomes is not completed effectively, funders may not accept applications in future years. So there can be many capacity challenges with applying for and managing funds, either because people are not comfortable taking on this kind of administrative responsibility, or because they are already overburdened with work in their professional capacity and cannot take on more.
These two factors of dedicated local leadership and funding are critical to community goals for continuity in ensuring regular land camps. When community, research, and educational institutions partner in projects, it means a broader scope of funding is accessible to cover the costs of running land camps. There is also an opportunity to share the responsibility and time commitments of organizing such camps, and perhaps even access funds that can be invested in infrastructure such as cabins, which could contribute to continuity and maximize funding available for future camps. However, careful community evaluation is needed to ensure that a land camp related to research goals complements local goals for land-based learning and follows local guidance in carrying out the camp. Where community-research partnerships are considered mutually beneficial, researchers can help to provide training and support related to developing funding applications and reporting on progress and use of funds. But it is not a long-term solution to have researchers leading the funding and reporting aspects, because this undermines community leadership and is limited to specific projects and finite timelines. McGrath (2018) emphasizes Inuit agency, access to timely funding, and consistency as part of the long and difficult work of stabilizing resources for community (language) programming. More territorial or regional training opportunities to support individuals and community organizations in applying for available funding would enhance community capacity to finance and lead such projects independently. Multi-year funding programs (perhaps five-year cycles), as well as developing a routine process for acquiring, managing, and accounting for funding locally, would go a long way to reducing the time and administrative burden on land camp organizers.

Youth engagement

Another aspect of enacting relational accountability through land camps was to engage youth in the research process. Training in interviewing, recording (audio, video, photo), and using GPS was meant not only to contribute to community research capacity, but to engage youth in the process of documenting the importance of caribou to community well-being from their perspective. The goal was for participating youth to compile photos or develop short video clips to help extend learning opportunities to other youth who were unable to attend the camp. It was also meant to help ensure that camp activities of most interest to youth were documented according to Inuit perspectives, and were not driven by visiting researcher perspectives. The youth involved were already very familiar with multi-media technologies. They were eager learners in the training and comfortable using digital cameras and video recorders during camp activities. Some challenges involved with this approach include the variable quality of audio and video recordings (i.e., we did not have the equipment or experience of a professional photographer or videographer), and recordings did not always focus on key activities of research interest (e.g., not capturing the full-length process of butchering a caribou or preparing a skin). However, youth certainly provided many important recordings and insights that could not have been planned, and that clearly reflect youth experiences and interests.
While most youth were keen to record experiences during the camp, once back in the community it was challenging to develop a set of youth-produced video clips or photo slideshows. Video editing was meant to extend land-based learning into the classroom, to develop technical skills alongside land skills, and to contribute to reciprocity through both training and reporting in research. Despite the support of teachers and interest from the youth, it was difficult to follow up and support this continued learning once visiting researchers had left the community. If it is not directly incorporated into the relevant curriculum, then it is hard for teachers to add more tasks to their class activities. Teachers do not have time for this, and it is not part of their responsibilities. Youth also become wrapped up in other class assignments, activities in town, and responsibilities at home, making it hard for them to dedicate time to work on the project independently. This aspect of video creation never did materialize as we had envisioned. We have a lot of footage, and we have left recordings in their raw form at the Nattilik Heritage Centre for potential future use or reference. This is one area of disappointment, where we were not able to compile video clips for project communication or educational purposes, and thus were unable to fulfill responsibilities as anticipated. Future considerations to more effectively facilitate youth engagement in research and media creation would be to connect with the Gjoa Haven Film Society (established in 2015), and to include editing of footage with a more formal film workshop that involves school credit or additional certification.
Continuity of youth engagement in land-based learning can also contribute to continuity of inter-generational relationships in the community. Time on the land together is an opportunity for relationships to grow and flourish, enabling further learning and knowledge exchange. It is through these relationships that Elders, youth, and researchers begin to learn more about each other, and gain a better understanding of what strengths each can share. Opportunities for youth to develop land skills and research skills in tandem can also contribute to local leadership and capacity over time to secure funds and develop more continuity in land camp programs.

Learning on the land as a part of the Qaggiq dialogue

Land camps can be an important part of a more Inuit-centred research methodology but having a land camp in itself does not constitute the fulfillment of the ‘5Rs’ of Indigenous research. Although the camp experience is an incredible learning opportunity for researchers — and a tremendous chance to develop, nurture, and expand relationships with community members and local experts — there is so much more to a project than just planning and holding the camp. Including land camps as a research method is not something to be taken lightly. Community members and researchers need to consider, and commit to, the time and energy that goes into the initial phases of developing a respectful and reciprocal research relationship and fulfilling relational accountability through all phases of the research process (Fig. 3). These inter-personal aspects go a long way toward ensuring that the research is Inuit-centred, grounded in Inuit cultural values and practices, and responds to community priorities.
In our case, Elder–youth land camps were one of the main priorities identified from the outset as being relevant to sharing and learning about caribou to support community well-being (Laidler and Grimwood 2010). We followed the leadership of the land camp planning committee out of respect for Inuit knowledge and protocols, and we were grateful for additional support from many community members and organizations (Table 3). Through our work together we witnessed the importance of time on the land to support the revitalization of relationships between Elders and youth (Mearns 2017). This was the most tangible benefit identified by Uqšuqtuurmiut in relation to our project, far more than any report, article, map, presentation, poster, or video could ever provide. Our experiences drew us into a Qaggiq Dialogue, encouraging us to reflect on what it means to fulfill relational accountability in cross-cultural research (Fig. 3). As Inuit and Qablunaat researchers we learned from and supported each other, as we explored and adjusted our roles. Many Indigenous scholars call for research to be done “in a good way”, but what this means in practice will vary across cultural contexts and according to the individuals involved (Wilson 2008; Kovach 2009; Smith 2012; McGregor et al. 2018; Reo 2019). Over the past decade of working together in Uqšuqtuuq our discussions, experiential learning, and reflections have led us to articulate what we feel are important personal qualities and attitudes needed for Qablunaat researchers to engage Inuit meaningfully in research:
Be willing to learn — be open to thinking about things in different ways, and learning about yourself; let learning happen more organically; recognize the lessons in everything that happens through lived experiences in working together (whether related or unrelated to specific research goals, planned or unplanned);
Be willing to unlearn — recognize your own biases, expectations, and influences of Western education conventions;
Be an active listener — learn personal histories, understand family and cultural context; learn common Inuktut words or phrases; identify local priorities and follow up on interests expressed;
Be self-aware — not everything needs to be critical; reflect on your experiences; consider how your personality and (or) language may influence interactions; practice humility; be willing to laugh at yourself and with others;
Emphasize ongoing relationships and commitments — engage on a personal level in cultivating friendships; respond to feedback provided; recognize that relationships and commitments extend beyond time spent in the community and project timelines;
Be willing to engage and advocate — figure out what allyship looks like in the context of particular community goals, values, priorities; be willing to advocate for changes in academic and government structures; and,
Be flexible — let go of the need to have everything scheduled, planned, and controlled; be open and adaptable when things do not work out; accept what is out of your control; learn from what new opportunities or creative plans arise from unexpected changes or events.
These reminders continue to guide our personal and ongoing efforts to fulfill relational accountability.
Our experiences working together, along with our reflections in the act of writing this paper, also helped us to reconsider what constitutes reciprocity. We initially considered reciprocity in relation to direct contributions to the community-led research involving land camps and learning from Inuit knowledge of caribou in interviews, participatory mapping, and workshops. Here we recognized the limitations of Qablunaat researchers in terms of lack of Inuktitut language and cultural knowledge, and of visiting researchers (Inuit and Qablunaat) in terms of imposed restrictions that come with being accountable to external funding agencies and university ethics and liability guidelines. However, we also began to realize that there are other aspects of reciprocity that were underlying our research process, as well as extending beyond specific engagements in Uqšuqtuuq. For example, these include approaches to defining research priorities and methods, direct and indirect aspects of reciprocity, and balance in reciprocity. The community-defined research priorities, goals, and methods established in 2010 planning meetings were contributions to reciprocity in the sense that these meetings defined how visiting researchers could serve the community. Furthermore, we initially focused more on the direct aspects of reciprocity, such as contributions in the community and access to research funding and administrative support. By the end of writing this paper we realized there are also several indirect ways of contributing to reciprocity, such as: (i) sharing community priorities and research findings with a broader academic and decision-making audiences; (ii) contributing to broader conversations about Qablunaat researcher roles and limitations; and (iii) pushing back, and advocating for change, in university ethics and liability policies as well as in funding eligibility and accounting requirements. Finally, we realized that reciprocity will rarely be completely equal, and instead remain something to continually strive toward. Reciprocity is about working according to appropriate and mutually agreed upon roles, based on the strengths and experiences that each individual brings to the research relationship.
The Qaggiq Dialogue is articulated by McGrath (2018) as a way of framing relational accountability in an Inuit context. For us this meant following local leadership, addressing ethics and safety, engaging in experiential learning, and supporting continuity (Fig. 3). Okapkok took on the local leadership role, along with the land camp planning committee, while visiting researchers needed to be aware of, and accept, their roles as learners and support people. We had to genuinely contemplate how Qablunaat researchers can contribute to reciprocity when limited in their cultural knowledge and experience. A big area of challenge in this regard is when responsibility for funding decisions and allocations are held by an outside academic researcher; however, funding can still be allocated according to local leadership so long as collaborative proposal development leads to community-oriented budgets and ongoing communications are maintained.
Accounting relationally within a Qaggiq Dialogue also needs to be guided by Inuit ethics and values that emphasize listening, an ethics of accuracy, observing, and personal congruence (McGrath 2018). This was especially evident in our land camp planning discussions around ethics and safety, where the limitations of university waiver and liability protocols were highlighted as contrary to Inuit approaches to safety. Prioritizing inter-generational relations through family involvement at the camp was also important, and we learned that this needs to be included in camp planning discussions up front to ensure adequate supplies and safety precautions. Ethics from Inuit perspectives also need to be considered in relation to recording camp experiences. This would not normally be part of natural observation and immersive learning, and yet it is a valued approach to sharing land-based learning with community members who may have few opportunities for travel with their family.
Relationships with people, the environment, and the cosmos are embodied in and inspired through experiential learning. For each person, the land has its own power, its own stories and lessons to share. This was evident in the inter-generational learning that took place on the land, and that grew in depth and connection over time and with increasing comfort level between generations. Visiting researchers also learned through time on the land, new experiences, and emerging relationships with people and place. These experiences are foundational — if intangible — in gaining cultural context and an appreciation of the limits to knowing for Qablunaat researchers. To support Inuktut knowledge renewal and the democratic goals of cross-cultural research, it is essential to represent community voices in ways that respect cultural difference as well as political authority over what gets shared. Furthermore, continuity is essential to fulfilling community goals for land-based learning as well as to foster more responsible research actions toward Inuktut knowledge processes. Continuity requires inter-group and inter-agency support, but also relies on local leadership, consistent funding, and youth engagement.
We realize that it is difficult for people outside of Inuit culture to know what is involved in being accountable and responsible on Inuit terms. As both Okpakok and McGrath (2018) have highlighted, Inuit ethics and values are more than a set of rules and guidelines, they relate to a deep cultural ontology which is not easily explained or taught. For this reason we especially prioritized naalangniq throughout our work, as we all did a lot of listening. Okpakok and the land camp committee were generous in their leadership, patience, and guidance. Mearns was bridging both worlds as an Inuk scholar, at the same time learning from Elders and academics as well as helping to educate Ljubicic and Robertson. Ljubicic and Robertson did a lot of self-reflection, tried to respond to community guidance, as well as identified and discussed the limits of institutional protocols. Therefore, each of us was reflecting on relational accountability from our own positions (Fig. 3). As McGrath (2018, p. 363) emphasizes “naalangniq is also about being available to receive critique, criticism, direction, and input from others. Even more than availability, naalangniq means to systematically seek input from others.” In working together to facilitate land camps we recognize that this input must be sought from Elders, community leaders, and knowledgeable community members on relevant topics, not from conventional academic approaches to peer review. We whole-heartedly echo McGrath’s (2018, p. 365) statement that “[f]or Inuit-related research to be accurate and ethical, it is critical that Inuit are involved as intellectuals and colleagues, not just as informants…involving others improves accuracy.” This is what we sought in all aspects of our work: ethics and accuracy according to local leadership and protocols.
The Qaggiq Model is an important starting point for inter-group dialogue. Engaging in this dialogue on the land helps to enhance relationships and Inuktut knowledge renewal in many ways. Nevertheless, we do not have all the answers. We, among others, need to continually evaluate how we approach research, how we fulfill relational accountability, and how our actions may be contributing to the distinct advantages or disadvantages of academic and community knowledge systems identified by McGrath (2018). The Qaggiq Dialogue does not stop with the end of this project, it is ongoing in our continued relationships with each other, and with research within and beyond Uqšuqtuuq.


We are grateful to Uqšuqtuurmiut who contributed their time, guidance, and insights to this project over the years, and especially to land camp planning committee members: Bob Konana (leader 2011–12), David Siksik (leader 2013), George Kamookak, Martha Pooyataq, Joseph Akoak, Susie Konana, Miriam Aglukkaq, Gerald Kogvik, Donald Kogvik, Martha Kogvik, Lorraine Pukiqnak, and Uriash Pukiqnak. We thank the Kitikmeot Inuit Association, the Elders Qaggivik, the Hamlet of Gjoa Haven, Qikirtaq High School, Tahiurtiit (Justice) Committee, the Hunters and Trappers Association, the District Education Authority, the Nattilik Heritage Centre, and the Government of Nunavut for critical in-kind and logistical support. We thank Regena Sinclair for creating the map in Fig. 1, and Dia Martinez Gracey for reference formatting support. We thank Janet Tamalik McGrath and Nunavut Arctic College Media for permission to reproduce Fig. 2. We also extend special thanks to McGrath for her thoughtful comments that helped to deepen our reflections and improve this paper, as well as for her translation skills for the title, abstract, and Fig. 3. We are grateful to Libby Dean for her openness and creativity in developing Fig. 3. Thanks as well to two anonymous reviewers for their feedback that helped to further refine this paper. Our work was undertaken with approval, according to, Nunavut Scientific Research License #04 058 12N-M, Carleton University ethics protocol 12-1439, and University of Alberta ethics protocol PRO 00040132. All trip reports, results summaries, publications, maps, photos, and posters for this project are available at: Additional camp planning documents are available at: We dedicate this paper in memory of late Elders Bob Konana, Susie Konana, Martha Kogvik, and George Kamookak.


Inuktut refers to Inuit language, and is now commonly used by the Government of Nunavut and Inuit Tapiriit Kanatami (the national organization representing Inuit in Canada) as a term inclusive of all dialects used across Inuit Nunangat. Inuktut has come to replace Inuktitut as a general reference to Inuit language, although Inuktitut is still the terminology used in some regions to refer to specific dialects, including in Uqšuqtuuq. We use Inuktitut for community-specific references, and Inuktut when speaking more generally about Inuit language. When citing other authors, we use their terminology.
The spelling of Uqšuqtuuq has been updated from our previous papers, using ‘š’ to more accurately reflect the pronounciation of the “shr” sound, according to the Utkuhikšalingmiut postbase dictionary (Briggs et al. 2015).
Qablunaat refers to outsiders in Inuktitut, and it is a general reference to non-Inuit. We use McGrath’s (2018) spelling here as relevant to the Kitikmeot region of Nunavut; however, there are various spellings used in the literature depending on local or regional dialect. For example, Qallunaat would be the spelling reflecting pronounciation in the Qikiqtani (Baffin) region of Nunavut. Similarly, in our paper title, iliharniq is “learning” in Uqšuqtuurmiut dialect, and would be illiniarniq in Qikiqtani dialect.
Talurřuaq in Inuktut (formerly Spence Bay).
Kangiq&iniq in Inuktut.
The Qaggiq Model was initially developed based on McGrath’s work with Aupilarjuk for her doctoral dissertation (McGrath 2011), and has since been published as a book (McGrath 2018). We primarily reference the book throughout, as a more accessible reference for those who are interested.
There was also variation amongst the local dialects spoken by Elders, depending on the traditional homelands and societies they were from (e.g., Ahiarmiut, Iluilirmiut, Nattiligmiut, Uthuhigsalingmiut, among others; see Ljubicic et al. 2018b).
The term “relationship” is used in English to convey how we connect with people (and with the land, animals, and other beings), and it is used frequently throughout literature on Indigenous methodologies to emphasize the importance of interpersonal relations in maintaining research ethics and accountability. However, “relationship” does not translate easily into Inuktitut and this terminology did not resonate with Elders in our February 2016 collaborative analysis workshop. Elders highlighted that there is no one word for “relationship” in Inuktitut, there are many different Inuktitut words that can be used depending on the nuanced ways that relationships are qualified (i.e., with who or what, in what context).

Financial support

We thank the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council for the Research Development Grant that facilitated early planning meetings, and for the Standard Research Grant that enabled the community-based research and land camps discussed in this paper. Kitikimeot Inuit Association funding to Simon Okpakok also helped to support land camp costs. Northern Scientific Training Program, Nasivvik Centre for Inuit Health and Changing Environments, the Gordon Robertson Scholarship (Carleton University), and the Alain Maktar Heritage Scholarship (Inuit Heritage Trust) funding provided important travel and financial support for Rebecca Mearns during her Master’s research. Additional funding was provided by Carleton University and the University of Alberta to Gita Ljubicic and Sean Robertson, respectively. Canada Research Chairs funding to Gita Ljubicic also supported costs associated with final manuscript preparation and revisions.


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Information & Authors


Published In

cover image Arctic Science
Arctic Science
Volume 8Number 1March 2022
Pages: 252 - 291


Received: 9 December 2020
Accepted: 21 May 2021
Version of record online: 29 December 2021
Corrected: 18 May 2022

Key Words

  1. Inuit
  2. land camps
  3. experiential learning
  4. relational accountability
  5. research ethics
  6. collaborative research
  7. Nunavut


  1. Inuits
  2. camps terrestres
  3. apprentissage expérientiel
  4. responsabilité relationnelle
  5. éthique de la recherche
  6. recherche collaborative
  7. Nunavut



Gita J. Ljubicic [email protected]
School of Earth, Environment and Society, McMaster University, Hamilton, ON L8S 4K1, Canada
Department of Geography and Environmental Studies, Carleton University, Ottawa, ON K1S 5B6, Canada.
Rebecca Mearns
Nunavut Arctic College, Iqaluit, NU X0A 0H0, Canada.
Simon Okpakok
Independent Researcher, Gjoa Haven, NU X0B 1J0, Canada.
Sean Robertson
Faculty of Native Studies, University of Alberta, Edmonton, AB T6G 2H8, Canada.

Competing Interests

The authors declare there are no competing interests.

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1. Observations of social and environmental change on Kendall Island (Ukiivik), a traditional whaling camp in the Inuvialuit Settlement Region
2. What is happening where? An evaluation of social sciences research trends in Nunavut (2004–2019)
3. Observations of social and environmental change on Kendall Island (Ukiivik), a traditional whaling camp in the Inuvialuit Settlement Region
4. Nunaaqqit Savaqatigivlugich—working with communities: evolving collaborations around an Alaska Arctic observatory and knowledge hub
5. Climate, caribou and human needs linked by analysis of Indigenous and scientific knowledge
6. Shifting Safeties and Mobilities on the Land in Arctic North America: A Systematic Approach to Identifying the Root Causes of Disaster

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