Non-Professional Indigenous Staff in Northern Research

  • Karl E. Francis
Keywords: Long-tailed Jaegers


... Clearly we are witnessing a fundamental change in the terms of reference for northern research arising from the Northerner's rejection of his imposed role as object of investigation and curiosity. ... social research has been jeopardized in many northern areas today. This is an especially unfortunate situation in that there remains need both for better general understanding of northern communities and environments and for the benefits that could be realized by the communities, as well as outside interests from well-considered and well-executed research. There have been some recent efforts to establish more empathetic and more effective approaches to social and environmental research in the North, the Arctic Institute's Man-in-the-North (MIN) Project being a notable one. The MIN Project sought local initiatives on both needs and procedures in social change in broad terms. The fact that the results of the project have not been entirely consistent with the rush of events only further demonstrates the basic differences between the self-perceived needs of northern people and the "benefits" being laid on them by external forces. The absence or near absence of qualified professional staff indigenous to northern communities is often cited as a deterrent to effective participation of northern people in research. ... In attempting to determine the possibilities for effective involvement of local non-professional staff in professional research roles, the University of Toronto and the Mackenzie Institute of Inuvik, with the support of the Donner Canadian Foundation, have now concluded the field phase of an experimental program of research on resident travel and land use in several communities in northwestern Canada. The program was highly unorthodox .... Project personnel in each community were selected as much on the basis of benefit to them as on their qualifications for the job. ... Working together they produced a nearly faultless record of the travels and land use of everyone in the large and dynamic Mackenzie Delta community of Aklavik. I have described briefly the nature of this project. There have been both negative and positive results. The most prominent positive result was the strong demonstration of the value of local experience in both conceptual and operational problems. One significant negative result was the demand and apparent need for greater guidance, reassurance and human contact of professional staff by the non-professionals. ... It appears that professionals, besides the obvious contributions they can make, can have a strong catalytic function. They can also, of course, dampen the initiatives of the non-professional staff if they are of such disposition. Since this is largely a matter of personality and sensitivity, it points up the importance of these factors in the selection of professionals who will be involved in northern work. ... [Suggestions for methodology are proposed for selection of suitable professionals and non-professionals, communication with Native organizations, etc.]