Pond Inlet, NU
Children & Youth
Environment & Sustainability
Human Rights & Equality
Indigenous Peoples & Reconciliation
Science & Technology
Building legitimacy and demand for two-eyed seeing.
Shelly Elverum is bridging the gap in Arctic governance, where Indigenous knowledge and western science are largely disconnected.
The unique gifts of Inuit youth.
In the Arctic, the Inuit way of life is threatened by the ongoing impacts of Canada’s devastating residential school program and other racist colonial policies. Inuit youth are particularly impacted by high rates of food insecurity and overcrowded housing, low graduation rates, scarce employment opportunities and lack of access to their traditional language and ways of knowing and doing.
On top of all this, Inuit are dealing with a rapidly changing climate, and a federal government that’s failing to provide clear pathways for Indigenous involvement in Northern science and policy development. Inuit fear that their sophisticated system of knowledge called Inuit Qaujimajatuqangit or “IQ,” developed over millennia, will no longer safeguard their survival and social harmony.
Shelly Elverum grew up in the Canadian Arctic. Later, while living in Southern Canada and reflecting on the racist system she profited from as a child, Shelly decided to move back to the Arctic. She asked the community how she could best serve, and they recognized her unique talents. She understood Inuit life but she could also be confrontational with white developers, scientists and policy makers when needed — an uncommon trait in Inuit communities that prioritize consensus-based decision-making. The community decided she should use her ability to use “two-eyed seeing” to support youth to connect with the rest of the world.
In 2013, Shelly started teaching environmental technology at Nunavut Arctic College. Instead of teaching Inuit youth how to assist researchers by becoming boat drivers or sample collectors, she empowered them to take the driver’s seat of science. The Inuit are, she argued, the original Arctic scientists and scientific techniques such as observation, monitoring and testing have roots in traditional Northern Indigenous knowledge systems.
Shelly and the youth she worked with soon coined the term “ScIQ,” the evolution of western science to incorporate Inuit knowledge systems to produce better Arctic science. Together, they co-created a new program, outside of the college, called Ikaarvik (“bridge” in Inuktitut). They sought to replace a research agenda driven by southern priorities and blindspots and reorient it from the North to the South for more relevant science and youth empowerment.
Ikaarvik works with Arctic communities to select youth for the program. They work with communities, following Inuit governance models to establish research priorities. Ikaarvik helps them link to researchers from the south who can support community-led research projects with resources and methodological training. Ikaarvik supports youth to develop agreements with researchers that will ensure data is kept in their communities and potential applications for research are agreed upon, which has created a new knowledge economy.
Through Ikaarvik, Inuit youth have trained over 750 early-career researchers how to do community-based research, meaningfully engage Indigenous people and utilize Indigenous knowledge. The model is being adapted to Kluane and Champagne-Aishihik First Nations communities in the Yukon. Youth are also engaging at the international level, working with the Arctic Council’s Protection of the Arctic Marine Environment as well as with the International Institute for Sustainable Development’s Circumpolar Young Leaders program.
Long-term, Shelly plans to become obsolete while Ikaarvik is entirely powered by Indigenous youth.