Understanding the effects of climate change on food security in northern Indigenous communities

Executive Summary

Indigenous Knowledge and lived experience, as well as research on northern needs and priorities, are essential to understanding how climate change affects northern food security. This paper describes climate change effects on the different dimensions of food security from the lens of northern Indigenous peoples, acknowledging their strong relationship with land and dependence on country foods for nutrition and community well-being. Bridging evidence from Indigenous Knowledge and research, the multifaceted influence of climate warming and environmental change on food availability, food accessibility, food quality and the need for adaptation are explored. This paper also explores how communities can develop or expand current environmental monitoring programs to focus on a variety of indicators that capture the complex influence of climate change on country food security via a "stressors, states and responses" design. The successes of current community-based monitoring programs are also highlighted and recommendations for enhancing existing monitoring efforts are made with the goal of enabling northern Indigenous communities to remain resilient to change.

Effects of climate change on Country Food: Evidence from the Indigenous Knowledge Working Group. Concept of food security from an Indigenous lens. The connection between food security and cultural identity is why country food security is important to highlight beyond the nutrition factor. The health implications of country food security can't be replaced by store bought food.

The long description of this infographic follows.

Description: Summary of Climate change research and monitoring

An infographic shows a simplified impacts of climate change in the Arctic. In the center of the infographic there are images symbolizing tundra, taiga and ice floe. The images are surrounded by colorful pink, yellow and blue circular lines. Above the images there is an image of a thermometer with an arrow pointing upwards and a capture reading "Climate change Affects all aspects of Indigenous food security and ways of life". On the images of the tundra human figures representing hunters look at migrating caribou. Below, a group of Indigenous people work together on processing fish for food and the elders are passing knowledge through conversation to younger generation. On the image of snow-covered tundra there are images of houses and human figures representing elders, children, adults and workers symbolizing Inuit community. On the right there are images of an ice floe with breaking ice and a human figure on a snowmobile and another human figure looking onward on a broken ice. The image symbolizes impacts of climate change on travel routes.

In the left upper corner of the infographic there are images of two human figures conversing while standing on an ice floe. The capture below reads "New words are needed to describe new conditions". On the right there is an image of a killed muskoxen, flying bird and a hunter with a child in conversation. The capture below reads "Intergenerational knowledge transfer must respond to climate-induced changes". On the right and there are images of snowflakes, wolf and vegetation with arrows pointing upwards towards the image of a caribou with a calf. The capture below reads "Abundance of wildlife and plants" Circular arrows beside the capture symbolize co-dependency of animals and plants. Another capture below reads "How do we adapt, by bridging different ways of knowing?". On the right there are images of a beaver, fish and moose, with circular arrows beside them. The capture below reads "Diversity of wildlife and plants" Another capture below reads "Is there enough?"

On the down left corner of the infographic there are images symbolizing portioned fish, two seals and a dinner plate with a knife and fork. Circular arrows are beside the images. The capture under the image of portioned fish reads "Food quality and safety". The capture under the image of a dinner plate reads "Local diets and nutrient intake" and the capture under the images of seals reads "Condition of animals" A much bigger capture above all three images reads "Do we want to eat it?" In the right down corner of the infographic there are images symbolizing migration of fish with fish swimming, and a capture below reading "Distribution of animals". Circular arrows accompany all images. On the right there is an image of a human figure riding an ATV. The capture below reads "Travel conditions." On the right there is an image of a gas can with a dollar symbol on a can and an arrow beside it pointing upwards. The capture below reads "Economic barriers." A much bigger capture above reads "Can we get it?"

Authors and contributors

  • Jamie Snook* Torngat Wildlife Plants and Fisheries Secretariat, jamie.snook@torngatsecretariat.ca
  • Sherilee Harper* University of Alberta, sherilee.harper@ualberta.ca
  • Alison Perrin* Yukon University Research Centre
  • Ann Balasubramaniam* Polar Knowledge Canada
  • Ray Alisauskas Environment and Climate Change
  • Mark Basterfield Nunavik Marine Region Wildlife Board
  • Chukita Gruben** Inuvialuit Regional Corporaton, Tuktoyatuk, NWT
  • Jeremy Brammer Vuntut Gwitchin Government Environment and Climate Change Canada
  • Chris Furgal Trent University
  • Dominique Henri Environment and Climate Change Canada
  • Lawrence Ignace University of Victoria
  • Susan Kutz University of Calgary
  • Gita Ljubicic McMaster University
  • Kieran Nanook** Taloyoak, Nunavut
  • Denis Ndeloh Nunavut Wildlife Management Board
  • Stephanie Peacock University of Calgary
  • Sonia Wesche University of Ottawa
  • Brian Park** nuvialuit Regional Corporation, Tuktoyaktuk, NWT

* Corresponding author

**Indigenous Knowledge Holders

Citation information

Snook, J., Harper, S., Perrin, A., Balasubramaniam, A., Alisauskas, R., Basterfield, M., Gruben, C., Brammer, J., Furgal, C., Henri, D., Ignace, L., Kutz, S., Ljubicic, G., Nanook, K., Ndeloh, D., Peacock, S., Wesche, S. and Park, B. 2022. Understanding the effects of climate change on food security in northern Indigenous communities. Polar Knowledge: Aqhaliat Report, Volume 4, Polar Knowledge Canada, p. 106–126. DOI: 10.35298/pkc.2021.05.eng


Across the North "the land" — which includes land, water, ice, air, plants, and wildlife that live there — has sustained Indigenous Peoples for millennia. Relationships with the land have shaped Indigenous cultures and greatly influenced the ancient knowledge passed down through generations. Now, climate change is altering relations to the land and knowledge of the land. This makes it difficult for northern Indigenous peoples to obtain food from their traditional territories.1 This affects their food security.

In a Regional Planning and Knowledge-Sharing Workshop held at the Canadian High Arctic Research Station (CHARS) campus (March 10–11, 2020), Indigenous participants expressed concern about how climate change affects their access to country foods. They also spoke of the need for relevant, up-to-date information so they can understand climate change effects, and plan how to adapt.

Indigenous Knowledge and lived experience, as well as research on northern needs and priorities, are essential to understanding how climate change affects northern food security. Indigenous Knowledge and science, working together, will help meet the information needs of northern communities. This information will guide policies and support decision-making to improve resilience and sustainability of northern food systems.

This paper answers the following questions asked at the workshop:

  • What are the effects of climate change on the health and availability of country foods?
  • Are we doing enough monitoring to understand climate change influences on country food and to plan for the adaptation of northern food systems? If not, what more should be done?
  • How can northern and Indigenous knowledge-holders take part in monitoring ecosystem change and what supports do they need?
  • What is the role of community-based monitoring in collecting information about climate change and changing wildlife?
  • What areas should we focus on for climate change research and monitoring?

Our approach

Polar Knowledge Canada assembled a working group (the co-authors) to develop this paper, based on our diverse experiences working with Northern communities.

Northern organizations, regional governments, and Indigenous governance bodies have conducted their own assessments to identify key issues related to climate change, plan adaptation measures,2 ,3, 4, 5 and create food security strategies.6, 7, 8, 9 This paper aims to add to these efforts by drawing on both Indigenous Knowledge and scientific knowledge to make recommendations that support community-led responses to climate change impacts on country food.

Climate change impacts country food: evidence from the Indigenous Knowledge Working Group

Harvesting, preparing, and consuming country food (wildlife, fish, berries, and plants) are important cultural practices passed down through generations in northern communities. Climate-driven changes in northern regions have been affecting the ability of communities to harvest and consume country foods. Late freeze-up, irregular spring melt, warmer or colder winters, thawing permafrost, loss of long-term ice, changing precipitation patterns, and coastal erosion — these all affect travel to traditional harvesting areas. In the Inuvialuit region, intense spring melts in the Mackenzie River system force hunters to use newer routes when they return to town, because the usual routes are less safe. The new routes are longer, and hunters use more fuel, which increases the costs of harvest. This is just one example of how changing environmental conditions can affect the safety of hunters and increase costs.

There are also concerns about how climate change affects the quality and availability of country foods. In the Inuvialuit region, some Inuit have noticed that the quality of meat has declined. For example, people have seen worms in lake trout, and abnormal caribou livers. As well, Inuit have learned that reduced annual sea ice means that marine food webs are more exposed to air pollutants, such as mercury, from southern regions. This affects the quality of marine food. Although it is well known that natural cycles can cause the number of animals and their migration routes to change, many Indigenous people are concerned about the added influence of climate change on fluctuations in wildlife abundance. Beluga and narwhal have long been absent from Taloyoak, Nunavut, and knowledge-holders attribute this to climate change and increased ship traffic. In the Inuvialuit region, it is clear that beluga, fish, and caribou are facing climate change impacts. These are significant concerns for those who rely on country foods for their livelihoods.

Climate change also influences Indigenous Knowledge about routes to hunting areas and about meat quality. The combined effects of unpredictable environmental conditions and the changing availability of wildlife complicate the transfer of knowledge between generations. When changing environmental conditions prevent the use of traditional routes, Elders cannot always explain the new conditions. Of equal concern are new toxins and diseases that affect the quality of meat. These are thought to be appearing because of warming temperatures.

It is especially difficult to explain these new conditions when there are no terms for them in the local Indigenous language. Also, when knowledge-holders have not experienced the conditions before, they cannot judge how hunter health or safety will be affected. Without this information, a young hunter may not know how to deal with the conditions and will feel less confident out on the land. These additional pressures compound the climate change anxieties that many northern communities are already facing. This fundamentally disrupts the balance they have developed with their environments over centuries.

Climate change impacts different dimensions of Indigenous food security

Indigenous Knowledge of how climate change is affecting food security can be further explored by examining how climate change impacts the availability, accessibility, and quality of country foods (see Impacts of climate change infographic).

Food availability: Is there enough?

Country food availability is determined by:

  • wildlife and plant abundance (the number of individuals of a particular species or herd, or total dry weight of plants)
  • wildlife and plant diversity (the presence of different types of country food species)

For country food to be available, wildlife and plants need to be abundant and diverse. Several factors influence the changes in abundance and diversity of Arctic wildlife and plants as the climate warms. These can act in opposition. For example, changes in environmental conditions (thinner ice, deeper snow) can make it harder for caribou to travel and cause them to use more energy during migration. At the same time, longer growing seasons caused by warming can improve the quantity and quality of the plants that wildlife eat. This could provide more energy, which may offset the extra energy used during migration.10

Distinct populations of the same species may respond differently to warming because of how they have adapted to local conditions. For example, more Yukon River Chinook may survive an earlier melt of river ice and higher temperatures in the Bering Sea,11 compared to southern Chinook populations.12 With warming temperatures, predators such as grizzlies13, 14 and parasites such as lungworms in muskoxen15 are moving northward.

Because the influence of warming on country foods is complex, it is hard to be sure how it will affect overall availability. We do know that diversity and abundance of food species are changing faster as the Arctic warms.1 Ensuring food security requires sharing knowledge and adapting to new opportunities in ways that support and promote Indigenous Knowledge, culture, and wellness.16

Food accessibility: Can we get it?

Climate change impacts where country food species are found, and hunters' ability to travel in their traditional territories. It also affects cultural food practices (e.g., food sharing, food choice). Research has shown that climate change:

  • challenges hunters' ability to travel safely17, 18
  • makes harvesting more expensive due to unpredictable weather, increased travel distance, and increased time on the land18, 19, 20
  • affects the distribution of country food species due to both environmental factors21 and new predators18

Climate change impacts can make it impossible to reach hunting areas when the animals are present.17, 18 Climate driven environmental conditions that impact food accessibility include the following:

  • reduced sea ice extent
  • unstable ice conditions
  • changing timing and duration of ice freeze-up and break-up
  • changing water levels
  • more frequent and stronger storms
  • unpredictable winds
  • changing precipitation pattern
  • increasing erosion
  • thawing permafrost

These changes can force hunters to harvest another species, such as fish, if they cannot safely reach caribou hunting grounds.22 Sometimes changing conditions may enable longer fishing seasons.18, 23, 24

Unpredictable environmental conditions can also make travel routes that have been used for generations less reliable and more costly to use. This can make it more difficult to pass on knowledge between generations and therefore harder for elders to help young hunters develop their skills. If hunters are unable to access preferred food species, they may bring home less food, and have less to share with Elders and other community members.25, 26, 27 This can affect the well-being of individuals and the entire community.28, 29, 30, 31

Food quality: Do we want to eat it?

Country food quality refers to:

  • nutritional value
  • cultural food preferences
  • taste, smell, appearance, texture
  • safety of foods

Country foods are a major source of essential nutrients. They play a vital role in maintaining health. Climate change impacts on country food access and availability can affect diet and nutrition. For example, if changes force hunters to choose lower quality, easy-to-capture and abundant, species over high quality, hard-to-capture caribou, this can affect the nutrition and health of Indigenous communities.

Climate change is also influencing food safety. Warming temperatures affect the number of contaminants that travel to the north from other areas.32, 33, 34, 35 This can impact the levels of environmental contaminants in country foods, such as PCBs, mercury, and lead.35, 36 Environmental monitoring, responsive health advisories, and balanced consumption advice can help limit exposure to these contaminants.35 Warming temperatures can also decrease food safety and cause foodborne illness. For example, illness from seafood is projected to increase in northern Canada due to warming ocean water.37

Climate change affects food preparation and storage practices that depend on cool temperatures. This can reduce food quality and safety. For example, above-ground air-drying of fish and meat, below-ground cold storage on or near permafrost, and fermentation do not work well when it is too warm. Community freezers and cut-and-wrap facilities can help prevent foodborne diseases. It is essential to recognize food safety problems quickly and educate the public, especially in the context of climate change.

Climate change is challenging Indigenous food security; however, regional and community food systems can be and are resilient. These actions are needed:

  • study, identify, and respond to climate impacts on access, availability, and quality of country food
  • consider how different ways of knowing support and inform the adaptation of northern community food systems to climate change
  • develop innovative programming on Indigenous language terminology and knowledge transfer that responds to climate-induced changes and new conditions.

Climate change and wellbeing indicators to monitor

Monitoring relevant indicators over the long term can help track climate change effects on country food security. Climate change influences environmental conditions, wildlife, and plants differently across the North. Local priorities vary as well. While there is no one-size-fits-all solution to developing northern monitoring programs,38, 39 community-based programs that monitor environmental, social, and economic indicators relevant to people in the region39, 40, 41, 42 are particularly useful.

Below we provide some key concepts to consider when designing programs to monitor how climate change affects the three dimensions of food security (availability, accessibility, and quality). A "Stressors, States and Responses" design that pairs environmental, social, and economic indicators together can enable the development of holistic monitoring programs (Table 1).

Stressors: Which climate change factors threaten country food species?

Stressors are aspects of the environment that put stress on, or influence change in, country food species. Indicators of stressors can include elements of climate change (e.g., warming annual temperatures, earlier spring temperatures, earlier ice break-up) that influence environmental conditions affecting country food species (e.g., species' habitat, food sources and quality, predation, disease).

States: How is climate change impacting wildlife and plant species?

States refer to how environmental stressors influence wildlife and plant species. Climate can affect the state of a wildlife or plant population in different ways (see "Food availability: Is there enough" above). Indicators of the state of a country food species population might include population numbers, animal health, or behaviour.

Responses: How does climate change impact Indigenous food security?

Responses to climate change include individual or systemic actions, or adaption to policy or practice. Indicators might include harvest levels, the amount of key country food species a community consumes, and levels of food quality or safety.

Table 1 An example of a "stressor-state-response" framework for monitoring climate change impacts on country foods. This table provides some examples of indicators but does not show all potential indicators.

Stressors States Responses
Food availability Indicator examples: water temperature, salinity, prey availability, ice coverage (habitat), snow depth, predation Indicator examples: wildlife population size, population structure (males, females, young) Indicator examples: frequency and quantity of wildlife consumption within communities
Food accessibility Indicator examples: ice thickness, ice stability, timing of freeze-up, timing of break-up, average air temperature, water levels, storm frequency Indicator examples: condition of trails and travel routes to harvesting areas, length of harvesting season for key species Indicator examples: harvest numbers, cultural continuity, transfer of knowledge on food species to younger generations, land-based accidents, provision of harvesting equipment
Food quality Indicator examples: marine and freshwater temperature, average air temperature, extreme air temperature Indicator examples: disease-causing pathogens in country food species, levels of environmental contaminants, key nutrients in country foods, community-reported quality (e.g., taste, colour, and texture) of key food items Indicator examples: frequency and quantity of country food species consumed in communities, occurrence of discarded meat/carcasses, reports of foodborne illnesses, nutrient content, contaminant levels

Community-based monitoring opportunities and successes

Northern Indigenous organizations play an important role in research and monitoring. They identify research questions and lead research at local levels. In Boxes 1 through 4, we highlight examples of community-based monitoring programs that respond to climate change impacts on northern Indigenous food security. These examples show that many different stressors, states, and responses are being monitored across the North. Some common elements contribute to their success, including:

  • prioritizing Indigenous self-determination in the design and implementation of monitoring programs
  • focusing on culturally important species and their habitats
  • working within Indigenous governance structures
  • supporting strong community leadership and long-term partnerships to ensure continuity of programs
  • engaging Indigenous knowledge-holders to identify relevant indicators and places
  • supporting community-based monitoring capacity through youth training and Indigenous guardian programs
  • ensuring that monitoring activities are tied to seasonal land use
  • recognizing community-based monitoring initiatives as a way of contributing to environmental education, research, conservation, and economic activities
  • making monitoring results available within and between communities and regions to support decision-making.

These common elements can also help build momentum towards coordinated food-security research and monitoring across the North. It is important to provide opportunities for northerners to share knowledge about program design, data trends, and the technical skills required for research and monitoring.

Community-led research and monitoring programs are inherent to self-government agreements and rights identified in land claims and co-management agreements. Research has not always benefitted northerners or responded to local or regional interests and needs.44, 45 This is beginning to change. Research and monitoring programs that uphold Indigenous rights and Indigenous self-determination in research can best support local resilience to climate change.43, 45

Box #1

Monitoring seal health with SIKU

SIKU is the Indigenous Knowledge Social Network (www.siku.org), developed by the Arctic Eider Society (https://arcticeider.com/) and the Hunters and Trappers Association of Sanikiluaq, Nunavut. Involving Inuit hunters from Sanikiluaq and Nunavik communities in the eastern

Hudson Bay area, community-based monitoring of the marine environment has been ongoing for many years. This program includes oceanographic and sea ice research, as well as wildlife monitoring programs.

Ringed seals are especially important to food security in the region. A study, based on Elder Peter Kattuk's observations and guidance about changing diets of seals, showed that the seals were eating fewer fish and more shrimp. This study was a key pilot project for the development of the SIKU app both before and after its launch in 2019. With the SIKU app, anyone going out hunting can record important indicators about seals and environmental conditions. In addition, paid environmental monitors use scientific instruments and observations based on Inuit Knowledge to document sea ice, oceanographic, and other conditions. They can record and share this information through SIKU.

Box #2

Monitoring caribou in Nunatsiavut

The George River and Mealy Mountain caribou herds have declined due to climate change and other human-induced impacts in Labrador. The province has banned hunting of both herds. Both herds are vital to Inuit food security and wellbeing.

Community-based research projects have documented Inuit knowledge about these herds. Inuit expressed strong emotions about their loss of connection to the animals. They revealed that caribou are essential to Inuit emotional wellness, identity, and cultural continuity.29 They worried about permanently losing access to caribou,30 partly because of climate change. Inuit felt criminalized because of hunting bans. When they shared their views on caribou management, they felt that governments did not listen.46

A new caribou monitoring project is bringing academic research and community priorities together. The project aims to reconnect youth to the land and caribou. Young people will join Elders on hunting trips to the wintering range of the George River and Mealy Mountain herds and take photographs of their experiences. Community members will prepare and co-lead trips with the project team. The project assesses the wintering grounds and caribou movements, comparing these with traditional knowledge from past hunting practices. Participants may also assess caribou behaviour or health compared to past observations. This project is an innovative way to keep cultural practices alive and contribute to Inuit well-being.

Box #3

Monitoring Chinook salmon in central Yukon

The First Nation of Na-Cho Nyäk Dun (www.nndfn.com) and the Wildlife Conservation Society Canada (www.wcscanada.org) work together to monitor Chinook salmon in the Beaver River watershed. This work joins Indigenous and scientific knowledge in partnership to inform conservation planning.

The Beaver River watershed is home to the Na-Cho Nyäk Dun people and provides habitat for manykey wildlife species, including Chinook salmon. A proposed road will cross 48 rivers and streams in the watershed, potentially affecting key salmon spawning habitat. A land-use plan is being developed to protect spawning habitats and reduce the impacts of the road on salmon.

Cultural maps and Indigenous Knowledge of salmon spawning, contributed by Na-Cho Nyäk Dun Elders, guided study design and field work for monitoring salmon numbers, spawning habitat and water quality.

The project identified viable Chinook spawning habitat and key areas to continue monitoring for spawning salmon. It also included training and mentorship for Na-Cho Nyäk Dun staff, who now have the skills to do the surveys themselves and continue the monitoring program. An Elder took part in the monitoring activities and shared Indigenous Knowledge of the land, as well as important insights for conservation. These are captured in a story map shared with Na-cho Nyäk Dun citizens (https://storymaps.arcgis.com/stories/8eba6b85803b4b56b6389abcc74708a8). The results of this work are informing the development of the Beaver River Land Use Plan. Monitoring will continue to support future Chinook salmon and water protection. Future projects in the Beaver River Watershed include monitoring air and water temperature and light conditions.

Box #4

Community-based Collaborative caribou and muskox health surveillance

Caribou and muskoxen health monitoring program were developed collaboratively by community members, academics and government wildlife agencies in response to concerns voiced by the communities of Ulukhaktok, Northwest Territories, and Kugluktuk and Ekaluktutiak, Nunavut. The programs bring Indigenous Knowledge and science together to understand wildlife population health, disease, and zoonoses (diseases that pass from animals to humans). The programs consist of: (i) baseline wildlife health interviews gathering information on stressors; (ii) harvester-based sampling from caribou and muskoxen; and (iii) ongoing annual interviews documenting Indigenous Knowledge on population health and trends.

These approaches bring Indigenous and scientific knowledge together to establish historical baselines and trends. They also document current populations and detect new or emerging conditions, diseases, or concerns. The results are shared with the communities through community presentations, co-management meetings, and reports that are co-authored with key community partners. The results can inform educational, conservation, or public health responses. Co-learning happens through training and knowledge exchange between hunters, monitors, scientists, graduate students, and the general public. Increasingly, local hunter and trapper organizations own and operate these programs, and communities manage data ownership. Scientific researchers and academics serve as external experts to support the programs. This ongoing relationship between community members, government officials, and academic partners brings continued knowledge sharing and builds trust. It also greatly improves the communication network, which leads to more effective wildlife co-management.

Climate change monitoring: Recommendations from the Indigenous Knowledge Working Group

Many ongoing climate change monitoring and research projects focus on a range of wildlife (such as caribou, polar bear, and muskox), marine mammals, and fish. These projects have been positive for communities and have provided added income for hunters as the cost of going out on the land rises. These hunters, including Elders, often know best which areas are most affected by climate change, and share their knowledge about the history of local changes and existing natural cycles with southern researchers.

Monitoring programs must be designed collaboratively with communities so that research and monitoring efforts reflect local priorities and knowledge needs. In some areas, topics important to the community are not being addressed. In other areas, residents are tired of participating in research and no longer want to be involved.

In Taloyoak, Nunavut, several effective projects are monitoring fish populations, but there is no caribou research and more could be done to monitor the growing polar bear population. In the Inuvialuit region, however, there have been many research projects and there is a general feeling that beneficial monitoring projects should be continued. The co-development of projects ensures that monitoring programs are respecting local perspectives on how to collect data ethically. Indigenous peoples want more influence on research methodologies, including the ability to veto methods that they consider harmful to wildlife (e.g., collars on polar bears). They also want to develop local capacity to conduct their own research, including the use of instrumentation.

Adequate funding is needed to enable longterm monitoring, and to integrate research across regions and share knowledge across the North. Inuit Tapiriit Kanatami spearheaded the 2019 Inuit Climate Change Strategy, a helpful framework that communities in the four Inuit regions can use to collaborate and integrate research. Pan-Northern forums generally allow for different communities to share ideas and concerns and unite in their thinking. Program funding needs to be flexible to allow for local innovation in monitoring programs. For example, an Inuvialuit project helped improve country food processing by showing harvesters how to reduce meat wastage for personal and commercial purposes.

Conclusion: Enhancing community-based monitoring of climate change and country food

Relationship with the land is fundamental for northern Indigenous peoples and provides the foundation for local belief systems, identity, knowledge, and livelihoods. Their close connection with the land shapes the way they experience and understand environmental change, and the way they respond to it.

Indigenous communities across the North are experiencing rapid climate change. It is affecting the availability, accessibility, and quality of country food, which is key to Indigenous food security. Monitoring programs and research focused on understanding climate change effects on country foods must consider potential implications for northern Indigenous needs There is a need for integrated research and monitoring that prioritizes the importance of local culture, skills, language, food preferences, and harvest practices to better understand the adaptations required for communities to remain healthy and resilient to change.

The following recommendations support improved understanding of how climate change impacts Indigenous food security. They emphasize culturally relevant and Northern-led approaches.


Consider the relationship between northern food security, culture, health, and climate change

Country foods are critical to northern food security and fundamental to northern Indigenous cultures. Climate change adaptation, nutrition, and health are also part of food security. Understanding how these elements interact will help enable northern communities to strengthen their resilience to climate change.

Promote Indigenous self-determined research on climate change and country food security

There is a need for Indigenous self-determined research that uses multiple perspectives to explore how climate change is affecting northern ecosystems and country food systems. This should include the following:

  • research that brings together Indigenous Knowledge, social sciences, natural sciences, and knowledge from different sectors (e.g., linking climate change impacts on wildlife abundance, distribution, and health to impacts on human health and adaptation strategies)
  • more support for Indigenous methods, knowledge, values, community-led research, and monitoring for food sovereignty

Foster northern leadership and guidance

Northern and Indigenous communities know best what research and monitoring programs they need, and they are the best advocates for these. They can identify key issues of local concern. Indigenous-led programs, or programs that communities and researchers develop together from the start, based on community needs, will foster community interest. These will also foster community involvement in all aspects of research, or as much as local capacity allows.

Focus on critical indicators

Crucial indicators in climate change research and monitoring will vary across the North according to land use, species of cultural value, and Indigenous ways of knowing. This diversity must be supported. To inform broader regional or national decision-making, it is also important to:

  • monitor key environmental indicators consistently across regions to contribute to broader assessments of the regional impacts of climate change
  • identify and further research how different climate change impacts are connected (e.g., the influence of new predators, habitat change, and local harvesting pressure on species decline)

Encourage co-management-led research

The influence of climate change on country foods needs to be monitored and considered in wildlife co-management processes and policies. There is an opportunity for research partnerships that address critical knowledge gaps. We encourage co-management boards to prioritize, support, and/or lead more climate change research.

Share knowledge among community-based monitoring programs

There is growing interest in storing and sharing knowledge and data among community-based monitoring programs at a national and circumpolar scale. Sharing data will be important for understanding climate change impacts on food security.47 Important elements include:

  • networking and training opportunities within community-based monitoring programs to share ideas and improve coordination
  • ways of coordinating and sharing monitoring data that are consistent, secure, and accessible

Provide holistic and coordinated government support for climate change and food security programming

Climate change and food security are connected, but government programs often treat them separately. There is an opportunity for governments to connect their support for food security, climate change, and monitoring through more holistic programs. There is also an opportunity to coordinate successful community-based monitoring programs that address both food security and climate change challenges to enable knowledge exchange, skills transfer, and data sharing.

Increase and sustain investment in community-based monitoring programs

Community-based monitoring programs need consistent and flexible funding for infrastructure, community engagement, and long-term monitoring. This includes expanded support for land-based monitor/guardian programs and monitoring with scientific instruments. Funding must be targeted directly towards communities. It needs to be flexible, so that capacity-strapped northern organizations receive funding when they need it. Funding must also strengthen local capacity to combine research and Indigenous Knowledge.


We thank Madeline Redfern of Ajungi Arctic Consulting for organizing and supporting the Indigenous Knowledge components of this paper. We appreciate the collaboration and ideas provided by Jennifer Fresque Baxter of the Department of Environment and Natural Resources, GNWT, and Fabien Mavrot of the University of Calgary. We thank the many Indigenous partners who have previously worked with co-authors and who have shared information that has shaped our collective understanding.


Selected northern organizations and programs doing community-based monitoring across Canada

Organization/Program Location
Aqqiumavvik Society Arviat, NU
Atlas of Community-Based Monitoring and Indigenous Knowledge in a Changing Arctic Pan-Northern
ELOKA: Exchange for Local Observation and Knowledge of the Arctic Pan-Northern
Ittaq Heritage and Research Centre Clyde River, NU
SIKU: The Indigenous Knowledge Social Network Pan-Northern
SmartICE Pan-Northern
Community-based Muskox and Caribou Health Surveillance Kugluktuk, Ekalututiak, Ulukhaktok
Nunavut Wildlife Management Board Community-Based Monitoring Network Nunavut
Northwest Territories Cumulative Impact Monitoring Program (NWT CIMP) Northwest Territories
Arctic Borderlands Ecological Knowledge Society Northern NWT, Yukon, Alaska


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