Collection and Analysis of Traditional Ecological Knowledge about a Population of Arctic Tundra Caribou


  • Michael A.D. Ferguson
  • François Messier



Inuit knowledge, methodology, wildlife population fluctuations and ecology, caribou, Rangifer tarandus, Baffin Island, Nunavut


Aboriginal peoples want their ecological knowledge used in the management of wildlife populations. To accomplish this, management agencies will need regional summaries of aboriginal knowledge about long-term changes in the distribution and abundance of wildlife populations and ecological factors that influence those changes. Between 1983 and 1994, we developed a method for collecting Inuit knowledge about historical changes in a caribou (Rangifer tarandus) population on southern Baffin Island from c. 1900 to 1994. Advice from Inuit allowed us to collect and interpret their oral knowledge in culturally appropriate ways. Local Hunters and Trappers Associations (HTAs) and other Inuit identified potential informants to maximize the spatial and temporal scope of the study. In the final interview protocol, each informant (i) established his biographical map and time line, (ii) described changes in caribou distribution and density during his life, and (iii) discussed ecological factors that may have caused changes in caribou populations. Personal and parental observations of caribou distribution and abundance were reliable and precise. Inuit who had hunted caribou during periods of scarcity provided more extensive information than those hunters who had hunted mainly ringed seals (Phoca hispida); nevertheless, seal hunters provided information about coastal areas where caribou densities were insufficient for the needs of caribou hunters. The wording of our questions influenced the reliability of informants' answers; leading questions were especially problematic. We used only information that we considered reliable after analyzing the wording of both questions and answers from translated transcripts. This analysis may have excluded some reliable information because informants tended to understate certainty in their recollections. We tried to retain the accuracy and precision inherent in Inuit oral traditions; comparisons of information from several informants and comparisons with published and archival historical reports indicate that we retained these qualities of Inuit knowledge.