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Dr Gita Ljubicic is with the Department of Geography and Environmental Studies at Carleton University. As part of an International Polar Year research effort she talked to the people living in three Nunavut communities to learn about sea ice from the Inuit perspective.


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Podcast Transcript: Gita Ljubicic

FRENCH VOICEOVER: Ce podcast a été enregistré à l'Année polaire internationale 2012.

ENGLISH VOICEOVER: This podcast was recorded at the International Polar Year 2012 Conference.



ENGLISH VOICEOVER: From knowledge to action.

FRENCH VOICEOVER: De la connaissance à l'action.

HOST: The seasonal freezing and melting of sea ice is highly influential in daily life for Inuit communities. Once it freezes over, sea ice becomes a highway. It makes travel easier, and it provides a platform for hunting and fishing in distant locations. So it's no surprise that changes in sea ice conditions are well understood in Inuit communities. Dr Gita Ljubicic is with the Department of Geography and Environmental Studies at Carleton University in Ottawa. As part of an International Polar Year research effort she talked to the people living in three Nunavut communities – Pangnirtung, Igloolik and Cape Dorset – to learn about sea ice from the Inuit perspective. The project was wide ranging. Information was collected from researchers, community partners, and local sea ice experts. And some of the knowledge they shared was used to create an online sea ice atlas. Dr Ljubicic sat down for a conversation about the project at the International Polar Year 2012 Conference in Montreal.


HOST: Tell me about how you got started on your work in Igloolik and Pangnirtung and Cape Dorset, because as a researcher it's difficult to just walk in and get communities to share their information with you. How did you build a relationship with those communities?

GUEST: The main thing about starting out for me was doing preliminary research visits. So just to meet with local organisations – Inuit organisations, elders groups and so on – in each community, propose this project on sea ice to learn from Inuit knowledge about sea ice, and get feedback. But the main thing was to see if there was any interest in the community and to get feedback on how to proceed. So those trips were absolutely critical to developing with starting the relationships, developing them, and maintaining them over time.


HOST: What did you do, and how was your project perceived by people who know the sea ice?

GUEST: It was a really positive experience. So starting off with those preliminary trips was important. Then we could follow up on the feedback from the community groups. So they had identified a number of sea ice experts we could start working with – so mostly elders and active hunters – in each community. They really wanted to have their knowledge documented, so to be taken more seriously by scientists and also to have it more available for youth. So they have a wealth of knowledge. It's traditionally passed on orally, and that's still a very, very important aspect. But increasingly it's important to them to have it written down as well to share more in schools or for it to be more publicly accessible.


HOST: And what kinds of information did you gather from community members?

GUEST: We tried to learn as much as possible about sea ice from Inuit knowledge, so we had a whole range of topics. One of the most really interesting and important ones was Inuktitut sea ice terminology. So to learn about sea ice from an Inuit perspective we really had to start by learning about the terminologies. So for freezing, for melting, for winds and currents that affect sea ice at different times of the year, that was the starting point. Then from there we learned a lot about uses of sea ice, sea ice as habitat, observations of changes, and how hunters can assess whether or not it's safe – because it is a very dangerous environment – so how to navigate on the sea ice.


HOST: How do they navigate on the sea ice?

GUEST: They look for a number of indicators, so looking at the snow conditions on top of the ice, assessing the direction and the strength of the winds and whether or not that may cause the ice to break up or to move in, say, along the floe edge. To know the currents and the time of the month is really important. So at full moon, for example, the currents can be much stronger; the tide is stronger so it can be more unstable on the sea ice. And also looking for usually features that I can't necessarily see but that the hunters are really accustomed to looking for on the horizon to navigate to specific locations. It's a very flat environment and so there are things that they are accustomed to looking for, but it's not always really evident if you don't know what you're looking for. And just as a note in terms of how we collected the information, it was based a lot on interviews one on one, but group discussions were also really important. We went on a lot of sea ice trips – so to get first hand experience on the sea ice. And mapping – so having participatory mapping where the elders and hunters could – it was another way that they could record their extensive knowledge on the sea ice.


HOST: And so at what point did you decide to combine forces with other scientists to create this, the online sea ice map? Because for lay people that's a really exciting development for us to be able to go look at it.

GUEST: There were a few researchers already working in different communities on similar topics, and with the International Polar Year and the Canadian government dedicating funding to research for the Polar Year we decided to work together to submit an application. The funding was meant to be for larger teams and to bring people together on similar topics. So it was very timely, and we had all been in touch anyway, so it was a way to kind of formalise that. The atlas itself – the sea ice atlas – is one portion of that project. And so through those collaborations we were able to get the technical support and development expertise from the Geomatics and Cartographic Research Centre at Carleton University – and I'm also based at Carleton – so we worked really closely together to connect the community experience and results to the technological development where we could then share things online.


 HOST: And how do you think the online component will add to the value of the project?

GUEST: The northern youth are very technologically savvy, so we were trying to find a way to share the information in a way that's accessible and also of interest to the youth. So the main way still is that oral knowledge transfers from the elders to the youth. But as a way to have the results more accessible in school or more publicly it was important to have this online component. So it's not necessarily just for the community. It can be accessed and available across Nunavut. And so the added value of that for us is that you can have – you can share the results in an interactive way showing the oral communication and more visual aspects. So it's much more engaging than just reading the reports or reading the academic results of the work. And also it's easier to incorporate into the schools in that format. And we did work closely with the government of Nunavut who is developing new curriculum right now – so trying to incorporate some components of the sea ice atlas into the grade 11 curriculum on "tariuk" which is "oceans" in Inuktitut.


HOST: So how do you expect your project will be used by residents of Igloolik and Cape Dorset and Pangnirtung? Do you think that they are going to use that online component or the research that you've had in a particular way?

GUEST: That's our hope anyway, and so far we've had really positive feedback from the sea ice atlas. We did some workshops around an official launch of the atlas last March. So in some of the launch activities the elders would explain things that were in the atlas and expand on them in person, and the youth would help navigate through the site. So it was a really interesting exchange, and it's that exchange where the ongoing learning will occur, and also the more detailed learning.

HOST: Thank you.

GUEST: Thank you.


HOST: Dr Gita Ljubicic. She has documented the importance, uses, and changes of sea ice in Igloolik, Pangnirtung, and Cape Dorset. Some of the results of this work can be found in the Inuit Siku Atlas. The URL for that map is That's This research project was partially funded by the Government of Canada International Polar Year Programme. You can hear more podcasts or watch video from the International Polar Year Conference at Or you can find this podcast at iTunes. Thanks for listening.

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