U of G, Inuit Community Team to Study Climate Change

August 11, 2009 - News Release

Three University of Guelph researchers will spend the next year studying the impacts of climate change on health in an Inuit community in northern Newfoundland and Labrador. They'll rely on storytelling and digital technology to gather data and create educational materials.

Doctoral students Ashlee Cunsolo Willox and Sherilee Harper, along with Victoria Edge, an adjunct professor in the Department of Population Medicine and a senior epidemiologist with the Public Health Agency of Canada, are part of an international research team leading the pilot project in Rigolet, Nunatsiavut.

The research team, led by Dan Michelin, Rigolet’s mayor, and Sarah Blake, the town manager, received a grant worth almost $180,000 from Health Canada’s First Nations and Inuit Health Branch as part of the federal government’s new Climate Change and Health Adaptation Program.

The program is designed to allow First Nations and Inuit communities to lead and conduct research in co-operation with Aboriginal associations, academics, non-government organizations and government agencies.

The research team will work with the community of Rigolet to collect “digital dialogues” that will include stories about how climate change has affected people’s lives, as well as collective strategies for coping with health issues. The stories and other narrative data will be turned into health media and materials and will be easy to share and access.

“These digital dialogues have the potential to be shared among other Inuit, First Nations, and Northern communities, as well as to become dynamic research and educational pieces,” said Cunsolo Willox, a PhD student in the School of Environmental Design and Rural Development.

“It’s a wonderful learning opportunity and an incredible privilege to be part of a team that unites an Inuit community so committed to participatory, capacity-building research with a multi-disciplinary and international team of researchers and practitioners.”

Harper, who will start a PhD in population medicine this fall, added it was particularly meaningful to have the federal government provide funding to undertake research using social science methodologies.

“It’s a powerful way not only to study the impacts of climate change on human health from a qualitative, narrative-based perspective, but also to communicate Inuit adaptation strategies,” Harper said.“It also supports Inuit communities taking climate change issues into their own hands and sharing information in their own voices.”

Previous research and first-person narratives have already shown that changes in the climate that affect land, weather and water have had significant impacts on Canada’s First Nations and Inuit communities, Cunsolo Willox said.

“Land-based activities, such as access to fresh drinking water and the location, abundance and quality of traditional foods have been disrupted.” Many people are also experiencing various forms of social and mental health stress due to changing historical and/or cultural lifestyles, she said.

The team is in the process of hiring community representatives to organize and undertake research and help with storytelling and story-mapping workshops. They’re also looking for a U of G student to conduct interviews and surveys in the fall and winter semesters. On-site work in Rigolet will begin in October.

Ashlee Cunsolo Willox, ashlee@uoguelph.ca
Sherilee Harper, harpers@uoguelph.ca

For media questions, contact Communications and Public Affairs: Lori Bona Hunt, at 519-824-4120, Ext. 53338 or lhunt@uoguelph.ca , or Barry Gunn, Ext. 56982 or bagunn@uoguelph.ca .

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