3.3.1 Arctic Borderlands Ecological Knowledge Co-op (ABC)

Arctic Borderlands Ecological Knowledge Co-op (ABC) – Canada, United States

The Arctic Borderlands Ecological Knowledge Co-op (ABC) monitors ecosystem changes in the range of the Porcupine Caribou Herd and adjacent coastal and marine areas. It focuses on three areas of overriding concern to the Native peoples who live in the region – climate change, development, and contaminants. The ABC works as a collaborative partnership between the villages of Kaktovik, Old Crow, Aklavik, Fort McPherson, Tsiigehtchik, Inuvik, Tuktoyaktuk, Arctic Village and Environment Canada.

Dr. Gary Kofinas is a professor at the University of Alaska, Fairbanks. He was interviewed for this Handbook. Michael Svoboda is the Director of the ABC and is based out of the offices of Environment Canada in Whitehorse, Yukon.

Status and Contact Details


Mr. Michael Svoboda Environment Canada, Whitehorse, Yukon, Canada michael.svoboda@ec.gc.ca

ABC Board member

Dr.Gary Kofinas University of Alaska, Fairbanks, US gary.kofinas@uaf.edu

Project Time: 1996-Present

Funding: Competitive grants, Territorial Governments, Unites States Fish and Wildlife Service, Parks Canada, Environment Canada, other sources.

Q1. What are the main goals and activities of the project?
The ABC gathers local and traditional knowledge about the ecosystem within the range of the Porcupine Caribou Herd and adjacent marine/coastal areas with the focus on contaminants, climate change and development.

Q2. Who are the participants?
The ABC works as a collaborative partnership between the villages of Kaktovik, Old Crow, Aklavik, Fort McPherson, Tsiigehtchic, Inuvik, Tuktoyaktuk, and Arctic Village. Funders are often involved in the partnership as board members, observers, and participants. A researcher from the University of Alaska, Fairbanks is also involved.

Q3. Who initiated the project?
The ABC emerged in the mid-1990s when Environment Canada reached out to local communities in the Yukon to join in a broader effort to address issues of ecological change. It built on relationships with co-management boards that had developed out of the settlement of Native land claims and other organizations that represent indigenous communities.

Q4. What are the locations and how were they selected?
The participating communities — Kaktovik, Old Crow, Aklavik, Fort McPherson, Tsiigehtchi, Inuvik, Tuktoyaktuk, and Arctic Village – are self-selected.

Q5. How difficult was it to find funding and how long did it take?
The project is administered by Environment Canada, although this can be changed if the various partner organizations wish it to. Funding comes from a variety of different sources. The amounts received from any particular source are often relatively small, for example $5,000. This means the project often has to look for new sources of funding, but it also means that the ABC is not dependent on any single large granting agency.

Q6. What are the relationships between the project researchers and the communities?
There aren’t that many “researchers” on the project. Those that are have worked in these communities for many years and have strong ties with them.

Q7. What type of monitoring and what methods do you use?
There is a questionnaire that includes both closed and open-ended questions. Local residents who have been identified as experts by their communities are asked a range of questions that address issues related to the weather, berries, fish, caribou, and other animals in the ecosystem. In addition, information is collected about respondents’ experiences on the land over their lifetime. There are also mapping exercises. Approximately 20 people are interviewed each year in each community, in sessions that last about one to three hours.

Q8. How do you organize your data management?
Since 2000, the ABC has produced regular annual reports based on interviewers’ assessments of and impressions from the surveys they have conducted. These are shared with the communities and posted on the ABC’s website. The survey data gathered is entered into a Microsoft Access database. Spatial data arising from the interviews is digitized.

Q9. Volunteers versus paid staff and participants: how did you address this issue in your project?
The interviews are conducted by local residents who have been hired by the project and are paid for their work. Participants are compensated for their time with a fuel voucher.

Q10. What problems have you encountered and how did you work them out?
One of the challenges that the project has faced is that a few years ago one of the individuals who had been putting enormous time and effort into moving the ABC forward changed jobs and became much less involved. The loss of this “energy center” had a negative impact on the project because she was a talented communicator. Another problem has to do with the difficulties of interviewing. There are a lot of “filters” one has to work through to get good and accurate data. First, the question has to be well written, then it has to be understood by the interviewer, then it has to be understood by the respondent, and then the interviewer has to write everything down clearly and completely. Also interview questions have changed over the years leading to some lack of consistency in how the interview is conducted. If anything goes wrong at any point in this process, there will likely be problems.

Q11. What do you think is the main achievement of the project?
Since 2000, the ABC has produced annual reports based on interviewers’ assessments of and impressions from the surveys they have conducted. Currently, the project is compiling a 10 year retrospective analysis of the wealth of information that has been collected, which can provide insights into a variety of longer and shorter-term changes, as well as unusual events, in the surrounding ecosystem. This data can be integrated and contrasted with other available scientific information. Other important achievements are: Capacity building in communities to engage in ecological monitoring; Ability for regional participation in land management issues; Working model for governments and local first nations to engage in positive forum, and build relationships; Laying the ground work for positive and constructive dialogue on land management; Establishing Long term monitoring data set in region; Starting to get analysis and models of how community based monitoring can contribute for decision makers.

Q12. What advice would you give to others who would like to develop a similar project?
Staying relevant to local communities, thinking long-term, economizing, and moving slowly are important. Being flexible and willing to change things is important, but if methods need to be changed, the old methods should overlap with the new ones for several years to allow for calibration of the new information. The survey for the ABC, for example, has changed across the years a bit in response to our experiences.

Q13. What future do you see for this project?
The ABC is conducting an analysis of the data it has gathered over the past 10 years. This is part of trying to demonstrate how the knowledge collected has broader relevance.



  • Successful collaboration between communities and governments
  • Developed an interviewing program striving for consistency
  • Flexible and willing to adapt to emerging issues
  • Longevity

Opportunities for Improvement

  • Ability to retain key people for a small program on a limited budget
  • Data analyses is lagging