Thawing permafrost and other changes in weather and precipitation patterns are having a number of adverse effects on Inuit culture, not the least of which being climate change-related health impacts like increased risk of injury due to unstable ice.
Today, “monitoring” is the foremost recommended health/climate strategy. Many monitoring structures in place in the North, however, aren’t organized to reflect the values and preferences of Indigenous people.
Cue the InukSUK program (with SUK standing for strength, understanding and knowledge, principles that underpin Inuit notions of health and wellbeing).
For the past 18 months, Ashlee Cunsolo Willox—the Canada Research Chair in Determinants of Healthy Communities—and her team have been developing an Inuit-led, Inuit-run, community-based health and environment monitoring program in Rigolet, Nunatsiavut.
“It’s not just infrastructure, it’s not just environment, it’s not just economics,” said Willox in a presentation for the Adaptation Canada 2016 conference on Tuesday. “It’s everything together in a holistic approach.”
Rigolet, Nunatsiavut is located on the north coast of Labrador. The remote coastal town has a population of 300 and is the southernmost Inuit community in the world.
A huge component of the InukSUK program is the InukBook app. Using iPod technology, the near real-time monitoring app will launch in August 2016 and allow Inuit community members to keep track of and respond to changing environment and health conditions in and around their community. The app has a built-in GPS system to monitor people’s locations and allows users to keep track of what they’re seeing and experiencing through notes, photos and videos.
Right now, 35 families are registered to test the app over the next year. They will take the app wherever they go and attend monthly meetings where they’ll upload their footage and discuss their experiences.
“All the data that’s collected is specifically meant to meet local and regional needs and priorities,” said Willox. “While we expect much of it will be able to be expanded and inform other parts of the polar North, the key right now is to find a way for Nunatsiavut residents to be able to respond to what they’re experiencing at both the climatic change level and the impacts on health.”
The app will also have the ability to push survey questions to users. If something is happening in the community—like increased incidences of frostbite, for example—health professionals can send questions to users and receive almost instant feedback to start coordinating treatment and frostbite awareness efforts.
Willox and her team are also open to the possibility of eventually using the app as a census data platform—one that would operate outside the official Canadian census and involve questions specifically related to life in the North. It’s an iterative design process.
“We’re building it small (but) we also have this much larger framework in mind,” said Willox.