It is feeling surreal that in just a few short weeks I will be landing in Inuvik, NT. After anticipating this opportunity since December 2020, much planning and "covid re-planning" (which I'm sure we've all had our fair share of this pandemic), the reality of the trip is starting to finally set in and I am finding myself feeling incredibly overjoyed and grateful to be welcomed to the communities in the Gwich'in Settlement Area (GSA).
The GSA is located in the northeastern corner of the Northwest Territories and encompasses four communities (Inuvik, Aklavik, Fort McPherson, and Tsiigehtchic) as well as traditional use areas. For this field session, I will be based in Inuvik and hopefully travelling to the other three communities to meet with community members and local Renewable Resource Committees (RRCs). RRCs are the eyes and ears of the land and the voices for their respective communities on all resource research interests and resource management decisions. For more information, visit: Gwich'in Settlement Region | Gwich'in Social & Cultural Institute (gwichin.ca).
I haven't written about my project in much detail yet on this blog (partially because I'm still in the very early stages of development) so I think it's time to get into the study objectives. This project is part of a broader, community-based monitoring program, where the goal is for communities to be able to monitor and manage Divii with their own capacity, into the future. My research focus is determining population demographics through the use of camera traps (and modelling annual changes to these parameters): nursery to lamb ratio, annual recruitment, and ram composition/classification. The second part of my work will focus on examining habitat, predation ecology, and other variables known to affect population size. It is really exciting what we can do with essentially non-invasive camera trap methods, and it has been a creative brain exercise understanding the opportunities with this data and what questions I am most interested in attempting to answer. I'm going to include highlight photos from our camera array in most of my future blogs, but here is a little teaser.
The overarching purpose of the field session this summer is to get to know the area, form connections with the land, and get to know the communities. It is critical to my project to have community involvement throughout the entire project - right from the development of my research questions to the final touches in writing. This also happens to be the most compelling aspect of the research to me. I am thrilled to exchange ideas with traditional and local knowledge holders and to fully understand the research interests of the communities and how my project can help answer those questions and develop a community-based monitoring program for future Divii work. To break down my actual trip itinerary, I will be leaving Victoria at the end of July and spending an overnight in Whitehorse, YT before arriving in Inuvik, NT. For the first half of the trip, I will be staying near Inuvik in a little cabin with great access to hiking, kayaking, and fishing. In addition to working on my project, I have a feeling the time in the cabin will come with a fair amount of personal writing/journaling, reading, and analyzing personal philosophies and values, as I usually would in remote time alone. For the second half, I will be staying with a girlfriend from Thompson Rivers University (her and her husband have a house in Inuvik), which will be wonderful. Toward the end of my trip, I will be participating in the annual Divii aerial survey of the project study area with biologists from the Gwich'in Renewable Resource Board (GRRB - my study partner) and the NWT Government. I am thrilled to be able to join in on this opportunity and I already anticipate it being one of the highlights of August. I will be spending the majority of my work time creating a tagging plan for the camera data, reviewing literature, and meeting with community members, GRRB staff, and RRCs as opportunities come available. I also hope to do some personal exploring and become familiar with a large portion of the region during my 3 weeks there and I am looking forward to documenting the entire experience.
Preparing for this trip has included a LOT of paperwork: getting fieldwork approvals from the University, travel approval from the NWT Government, writing safety plans/check-in procedures... the whole works! I have been doing my best to get a solid background understanding of the Divii population (history, cultural and ecological value, current status, etc.), the history of the GSA, an understanding of the area, learning some Gwich'in language, and wrapping my head around potential research questions. I've also been doing a bit of preliminary writing and preparing some slide decks for potential community presentations. It has been a lot of work but I couldn't be happier to have this opportunity to have my feet on the land and learn from local and traditional knowledge holders and interact with community members and local biologists.
The opportunity to go on this trip is incredibly special to me and of paramount importance to my project. I'd like to thank the GRRB and University of Victoria for their support in making this trip happen and the communities for welcoming me as a guest to their land.