Andrew Arreak Is Helping Inuit and Arctic Researchers Work Together

A community-led project called Ikaarvik prioritizes traditional Inuit knowledge.

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Feb 21 2017, 8:00pm

Humans of the Year

Andrew Arreak, who lives in Pond Inlet, Nunavut, has spent most of his life in the Arctic. He got used to seeing researchers come into the community, usually in spring and summer, to do their work, and then leave again without much input from locals. "They'd hardly give any feedback to the community," he told me over the phone from Pond Inlet, a predominantly Inuit hamlet (population 1,500) on the northern side of Baffin Island.

Arreak, who is 32, got together with some others and formed Ikaarvik: Barriers to Bridges, a partnership that links Southern scientists with communities in the North, so that they can work together on projects that will benefit both groups. 

"Instead of an outsider saying, we need this research to be done, we get the community to decide what their priorities are," he told me. The group's activities include working closely with youth organizations and local hunting and trapping associations.

One of their biggest successes is SmartICE, a program in Pond Inlet and Nain, Nunatsiavut (the self-governing Inuit region in Newfoundland and Labrador, on Canada's East coast). There, scientists from universities including Memorial in St. John's, Newfoundland are working with local communities to embed sensors in the thinning ice, which is putting Inuit and others at risk.

These sensors are either installed inside floating buoys that can freeze right into the ice, or mounted on traditional sleds (called qamutiks) or snowmobiles. Local hunting groups and others are consulted on where to install them, because they're the ones most impacted.

Andrew Arreak (L) with a smart qamutik, and Christian Haas from York University. Image: Andrew Arreak

"Our community has been concerned about ice conditions, because the sea ice is coming and going earlier each year," Arreak, the SmartICE research coordinator, told me. "It is our main highway to get to our camping areas and cabins, and to hunt and harvest on."

Read More:   Inuit Are Embedding Sensors in the Ice Because It's Getting Dangerously Thin

In December, SmartICE was awarded $400,000 through the Arctic Inspiration Prize, and will use the money to expand to other communities across the Arctic, Memorial University's Trevor Bell told me. "We're going to transform SmartICE from a research community partnership, to a Northern social enterprise," said Bell, who collaborates on the project.

To that end, they're creating a production hub in Nain, where the ice sensors can be built; and an operations hub in Pond Inlet, where training and planning can be done. Communities will eventually be able to operate their own Arctic "ice service," Bell said, providing reports on conditions in the area to locals, visitors, businesses—whoever needs them.

Arreak is quick to emphasize that none of this is his work alone—the community always comes first, as he sees it, which is the spirit behind both Ikaarvik and SmartICE.

"I'd like SmartICE to be available to all northern communities," he told me. "I would like safe travels for all northerners, so they can come back home safely."

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