3.3.7 Siku-Inuit-Hila Project (Canada, Greenland, United States)

Siku-Inuit-Hila Project (Canada, Greenland, United States)

The Siku-Inuit-Hila (Sea ice-People-Weather) project looks at the different ways in which the Inuit communities of Barrow, Alaska, Kangiqtugaapik, Nunavut, and Qaanaaq, Greenland live with and from sea ice. The purpose of the project is not simply to understand human-sea ice relationships, but also to facilitate the exchange of knowledge between the indigenous peoples who live in these places, and between local sea ice experts and scientists. Despite being separated by vast distances, cultures, and languages these groups all share knowledge and experience of sea ice.

The Siku-Inuit-Hila project combines different community based research methods in order to monitor sea ice, gather local and traditional knowledge about sea ice, and enable exchange between the participating communities and scientists. Dr. Shari Gearheard is Principle Investigator on the Siku-Inuit-Hila Project. She is an expert on human environment interactions, traditional knowledge research, the Arctic environment and change, and community-based research methods. She is also a resident of Kangiqtugaapik, Nunavut.

Status and Contact Details

Principle Investigator

Dr. Shari Gearheard
National Snow and Ice Data Center
University of Colorado at Boulder
Kangiqtugaapik (Clyde River), Nunavut, Canada

Project time: 2006-2010

Funding: Competitive grant, National Science Foundation project # 0624344

Q1. What are the main goals and activities of the project?
This study looks at the relationship between humans and sea ice in three different communities: Barrow, Alaska, Kangiqtugaapik, Nunavut, and Qaanaaq, Greenland. It has three main goals: to facilitate the exchange of knowledge between local sea ice experts in these three communities and between these experts and scientists; to support these diverse experts in examining and documenting together sea ice characteristics, change, and use, including similarities and differences between the three locations; to develop and implement community-based sea ice monitoring in these communities.

Q2. Who are the participants?
The participants are local sea ice experts (hunters and elders) in each of the three communities. Each community has 6-7 experts that meet regularly (usually monthly) to work on project activities and 3-4 of these experts also participated in the exchange trips to the other communities. The five scientists on the team are from Canada, Greenland, and the U.S. and include a glaciologist, climatologist, and geographer. The scientists have extensive backgrounds in community-based research and knowledge of sea ice conditions and monitoring.

Q3. Who initiated the project?

The project was initiated jointly by community members and researchers who already had long standing relationships in each community at the project outset. Community members have been involved in all parts with regards to design, research, logistics, analysis, and oversight. This project built on a pilot project conducted between two of the communities (using the exchange approach) a few years before. So when the proposal was written for funding, people were already on board and helping to design and write it. There was excitement and hope. People were wondering, “Is our idea really going to get funded?” The momentum was already there.

Q4. What are the locations and how were they selected?
The original pilot project was between Kangiqtugaapik (Clyde River) and Barrow. These communities were chosen because researchers involved in the project had strong relationships in these areas. When new funding was received, Greenland was added. We approached the Inuit Circumpolar Council (ICC) for suggestions as to which community might be interested in taking part. ICC joined us as a partner in the research and recommended Qaanaaq. They helped us to discuss the project with Qaanaaq and have some community consultations there. Qaanaaq’s local government was enthusiastic about joining the project and they had their own meetings to decide on which local experts would be appropriate to create Qaanaaq’s core team.

Q5. How difficult was it to find funding and how long did it take?
The project is funded by the National Science Foundation (NSF). ICC has provided some additional support to help bring local experts to our meetings and exchanges, and they have provided tremendous in-kind support. Funding was also received from Health Canada for a book of results that the team is working on.

The project was built on a successful pilot project. Something small scale was tried first, it worked, and then the new project was built from there. That might have been what made this application successful. Also, the National Science Foundation is increasingly interested in local knowledge. The travel component of the project, to facilitate knowledge exchange between all these people and places, is huge. The participants are very grateful that NSF saw the value in that. They (via Polar Field Services) provided tremendous logistics support.

Q6. What are the relationships between the project researchers and the communities?
Community members are the project researchers. They play the same leading roles as the scientists and they lead researchers who are not residents of the villages, however, one has lived in Kangiqtugaapik for some time now and the other has long and extensive ties to the community of Barrow.

Q7. What type of monitoring and what methods do you use?
There are three components to the project. The first is an exchange of people, in which participants visit the different communities and learn about local sea ice knowledge and the activities that people do on the ice and related skills. There was one exchange to each participating community. There are about 12-14 people going to the different places, where they spend about 2-3 weeks. In each place, they try to spend as much time on the ice as possible. Local hosts planned ice trips.

In Barrow, permission was received from the whaling captains association to be on the ice during the spring bowhead whale hunt. People from Kangiqtugaapik were really excited because there’s no bowhead whale hunting there. And the same was true for those from Greenland. Being able to participate in that hunt allowed participants hands-on, on-ice experience learning about Barrow sea ice knowledge and use. Similar on-ice time in Kangiqtugaapik (travelling regional fjords by snow machine and camping) and Qaanaaq (travelling by dog team to the next community of Siorapaluk and back) were key to project learning and the exchange of knowledge.

The second component of the research is the establishment of a sea ice working group in each community that meets on a regular basis to discuss their observations of ice conditions and their experiences on the ice. In particular, they focus on issues like what the ice is doing at that time versus what it normally should be doing, documenting knowledge and language about sea ice, and the results of the technical monitoring from the local sea ice stations, which is the third component of the project. In each of the locations, local monitors set up 3-4 sea-ice monitoring stations to record a variety of data about ice conditions. With training by the project glaciologist and supported by a manual designed by two of the project researchers, local residents gather quantitative information about the sea ice including parameters like sea ice temperature and thickness. The method developed for this work is simple but yields robust data. The method has been so successful that there are requests from other communities for Siku-Inuit-Hila monitors be sent to their communities to help them get something similar set up. For example, ice monitoring projects in Nunavik, Canada, have already switched to this method. It may be the basis for a wider network around the Arctic.

Q8. How do you organize your data management?
The data stays in the communities and is shared with the project glaciologist to assist with analysis and reporting. In Kangiqtugaapik it is housed at the Ittaq Heritage and Research Center and in Barrow at the Barrow Arctic Science Consortium. In Qaanaaq it will be deposited with the local government. Communities decide where they want the data stored and shared. There has yet to be a discussion of whether or not there is a desire for more public access of the raw data (there are publications of the results and the team is also writing a book). Also, all communities are looking for ways to extend the monitoring beyond the project. So far Kangiqtugaapik has been successful in acquiring additional funding. With more long term monitoring, a detailed plan for data management will be made.

Q9. Volunteers versus paid staff and participants: how did you address this issue in your proect?
Participants are paid for their participation. They are researchers – so just as scientists get paid, so do local researchers and monitors.

Q10. What problems have you encountered and how did you work them out?
At the very beginning of sea ice monitoring there were some problems with people writing down incorrect measurements. But these were simple issues and as soon as they were pointed out, it was easy enough to fix. The monitors take a lot of pride in what they do and they want to do it right. It took a little bit of time at first for monitors to learn the techniques of course, but now they’re used to it and they are running the stations (from set up, to monitoring, to station take-down) independently.

Communication can be a challenge across such great Arctic distances. It’s been successful, but it requires a lot of energy. It’s a continuous process, calling people and emailing people (even snail mailing people). Language too is a challenge in that the project wants to respect everyone’s language and publish in all the dialects. But it comes down to money. So, for example, the book has to be in English with as much local language as possible, although it would be ideal if it had been in each of the local languages. It’s hard for the lead researcher to say to any of the communities, “Sorry, but we don’t have the money to translate.” Trying to balance language as much as possible and always looking for translation support is the best strategy under the circumstances.

Q11. What do you think is the main achievement of the project?
The knowledge gathered and shared is most central, but there are also the bonds between people. When participants travel together it is a really intense time of exchange. It is not just about sea ice, but about people, and life, in general. The participants are reminded that these “knowledge holders”, whether scientist or hunter, are people with very interesting life stories, families, senses of humour, etc. When travelling great distances across ice or taking flights together, as well as living together, deep bonds are created. This was also the thing that created the momentum that kept the project going. People don’t want to let their friends down by not doing their part.

All the Inuit really liked meeting people from other communities. It is really interesting to see what similarities and differences there are. And sea ice is the common denominator among all participants. There are scientists who have dedicated their life to trying to understand it and they are passionate about it, even if in a different way. Even if this is different from Inuit, everyone has something to say about it.

During one of the last meetings when people realized that they were at the end of the last exchange trip, people were crying. They had become very close to each other and didn’t know when they would see one another again. It’s no longer just a project when you have people around the table crying – there is something deeper there. The manual developed by the project for setting up sea ice monitoring stations has proven very effective. There is a hope that it can serve as guide for other communities interested in doing similar work.

Q12. What advice would you give to others who would like to develop a similar project?
If anyone wants to do a community-based project he/she needs to already have or work on establishing a relationship with a person or a group in the community who will actually do the project. Unless he/she lives there, he/she needs to partner with a local person or local organization to carry the project through. This is critical for keeping the project going and making it meaningful locally.

Q13. What future do you see for this project?
The results of the Siku-Inuit-Hila project are being compiled in a book, which is being written and illustrated primarily by the local sea ice experts. One of the aims of this book is to show what life with ice is really like from the practical standpoint of people who live and depend on it. The authors hope that this approach might reach a broader audience including the public, students, science, and industry. But the first audience for the Siku-Inuit-Hila project is the communities themselves. The people in these communities want to know and share amongst their own people what is valuable and important to them.

The funding for the project is coming to an end, and it remains to be seen how, whether, and in what form it’s going to keep going. In Kangiqtugaapik there is funding to keep the sea ice monitoring station going and in Qaanaaq the local monitor there is interested in maintaining observations as well. Collaboration with other ice monitoring projects in Barrow may allow local observations to continue as well.



  • Developed a manual for local communities for setting up sea ice monitoring using a simple but robust method that can be used in other projects
  • Integrated activities, which enhanced connections between Inuit living in different countries
  • Built successful relationships between scientists and indigenous communities

Opportunities for Improvement

  • Access to long-term funding to keep up observations and research network
  • Additional funding to translate project results and products into multiple indigenous languages