Inuit knowledge and high tech merge on the sea ice

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Lisi Kavik is sharing her traditional home with the world via Google Earth.

image courtesy of Google Earth
Google Earth features Sanikiluaq’s Lisi Kavik and her knowledge about the history of the iglu the community builds each year.

The iglu featured is the one the community of Sanikiluaq builds each year as a teaching tool for the younger generation.

“We worked with Google to collect some of the first ever Street View of remote sea ice in Sanikiluaq. That was in 2015,” said executive director of the Arctic Eider Society Joel Heath, adding the iglu was part of that Street View of the community.

Kavik was unavailable to speak with Nunavut News/North.

Google was releasing the new platform for the on-line version of Google Earth, and approached the society to do something for its This is Home project, explained Heath.

“Basically, I interviewed Lisi Kavik for them as a part of that project, then they kind of used the iglu imagery that we’d got for part of the launch for that,” said Heath.

That interview, and one by Google staff, resulted in the text accompanying the photos at This is Sanikiluaq, Canada / Traditional Home of Lisi Kavik’s People. This is Home began as an interactive tour of five traditional homes around the world, and continues to grow, now featuring homes in Africa, the Americas, East Asia, Europe, Middle East, Pacific, South Asia and Southeast Asia.

The Arctic Eider Society has its roots in Heath’s relationship with the community, which began 17 years ago when he was doing Ph.D. research. One milestone after another led to the formation of the society after Heath made the documentary People of a Feather in 2011.

“Our charity works with Inuit communities in Hudson Bay, Sanikiluaq in the last 17 years, and also some Nunavik communities and Chisasibi (Eeyou Marine Region, QC),” said Heath.

“We do a mix of community-driven research, we do education programs for youth, training opportunities for students to get involved in research and environmental stewardship work across the jurisdictions in the Hudson Bay.”

Of the 900 non-profits from across Canada that entered the Google Impact Challenge, 10 were selected as finalists and five won the top prize of almost $1 million. The society was among them, winning $750,000.

As Kavik explained for the text of This is Sanikiluaq, “In years past iglus were constructed in the fall months. However, the changing climate has required waiting until winter before the right conditions to emerge to build to start constructing the iglu.”

The changing climate has also meant that Arctic sea ice is declining at over 13 per cent per decade, and changing conditions make navigation unpredictable and limits access to traditional foods for Arctic communities, according to the Arctic Eider Society’s website.

image courtesy of siku.org
siku.org is a new social media Wikipedia for Inuit knowledge being developed by the Arctic Eider Society thanks to a $750K prize from Google Impact Challenge which saw 900 Canadian non-profit groups compete for five top spots.

Heath says the society is using the Google funding to turn its sea-ice mapping platform into a social media Wikipedia for Inuit knowledge at siku.org.

“We’re working with a variety of Inuit organizations and groups to create tools and services to help Inuit communities across the North. We’ve been mostly working on it behind the scenes to do a lot of the programming,” said Heath.

“But we’ll be testing the mobile app and the platform in Sanikiluaq later this fall and winter.”

Heath says the objective is to provide tools for Inuit to document their own observations out on the land on wildlife and sea ice.

“They can tag photos using their own terminology for sea ice. They can tag wildlife photos with body conditions, stomach content – all using a mobile app. They can share their hunting stories,” he said.

“People are sharing a lot of hunting stories on Facebook, but you can’t mobilize that knowledge. It kind of gets lost on the news feed. This platform lets people retain their intellectual property rights and will allow them to mobilize that knowledge for environmental stewardship – for self-determination, research and education.”

The Sanikiluaq Hunters and Trappers Association is the main partner in the community.

Meanwhile, Kavik and the community’s iglu can be found at Google Earth.