The best technology is not always new technology. Eider duck down is the warmest feather in the world, and the technology has enabled survival for the Inuit on the Belcher Islands in Canada’s Hudson Bay. They have no caribou, and have thus relied on the duck for food and warm clothing.
Joel Heath, a townie who studies sea ice, got a call to go to Sanikiluaq, Nunavut as a research biologist in 2002 after a massive eider duck die off. He realized the duck was one part of a larger story in a changing arctic.
Joel is now Executive Director of the Arctic Eider Society, a charity that began as a legacy to People of a Feather. A film he made in 2011 about the Inuit of the Belcher Islands, People of a Feather, chronicles their special relationship with the eider, climate change’s effect on sea ice, hydroelectric developments, and how those affect the lives of locals.
AES’s work involves community-driven research, and culturally relevant math and science programs in Northern schools, as well as environmental stewardship work.
AES aims, among other things, to develop platforms where people can share environmental observations using their own knowledge systems, and to keep youth in school to become the next generation of researchers.
Partnering youth with hunters to learn about the land in an effort to facilitate knowledge transfer and language preservation helps ensure valuable knowledge is not lost.
The film won 16 awards, and now Joel and AES are up for another one, this time for new technology. The Google.org Impact Challenge recognizes Canadian nonprofits that are developing innovative technology that can make the world better.
Each of the 10 finalists are guaranteed $250,000, and the top 5 will receive up to $750, 000. SIKU, the Inuktitut word for sea ice, is a social media network and Inuit knowledge mapping platform being developed that has earned AES the nomination.
Changing sea ice is creating new challenges in the North. It affects safety and food security. SIKU will provide novel, user friendly ways to document and mobilize the observations of the Inuit who experience the changes first hand.
People will be able to share knowledge of ice conditions and wildlife in real time, also creating a bigger picture for long term study. In this living wiki of Inuit knowledge, in English and Inuktitut, stories remain the intellectual property of participants, and unified weather data helps communities with safe navigation of land and sea ice.
“The project is going to have important benefits for northern communities particularly for sea ice safety, environmental stewardship and transfer of knowledge from elders and hunters to our computer savvy youth,” says Lucassie Arragutainiaq, Sanikiluaq-based AES board member and project northern liason.
“Though we’re mostly based on the ground in Sanikiluaq, Inukjuak, Umiujaq, Kuujjuaraapik and Chisasibi (Hudson/James Bay), we’ve had connections with Labrador for a long time, particularly with addressing cumulative impacts of hydroelectric projects on the marine ecosystem and Inuit. Our southern office is now based in St. John’s. The SIKU platform, much like our education/curriculum programs, is something intended to be of benefit to Inuit Arctic wide, and we have a number of ongoing discussions happening with partners in Nunatsiavut” Joel comments on SIKU’s development.
Google.org Impact Challenge voting takes place from March 6 to 28th, and you can vote for SIKU by going to the votesiku.com page. You will also learn more about the other projects nominated on the voting page. You have up to 4 votes, you may discover other cool projects you want to support too. Go SIKU!