Notes from the field: Update from the IHACC evaluation project

Text and photos by Mya Sherman. Iqaluit at sunrise

“So you’re saying that the kids in the Amazon play soccer just like we do?” asked an enthusiastic third grader at the Joamie Ilinniarvik School in Iqaluit, Nunavut. The question came at the end of a classroom visit where I spoke to the students in grade three and grade four about the IHACC communities in the Peruvian Amazon. The classes were in the middle of a community comparison unit, looking at other communities around the world and how they compared to Iqaluit. After almost five years of working with Shipibo and Shawi communities in the Peruvian Amazon on the Indigenous Health Adaptation to Climate Change (IHACC) research program, it was a surreal experience to show my pictures of hot boat rides on the Ucayali River while it was -20C outside. While there were stark differences between daily life for the children in Panaillo and the children in Iqaluit, I was struck by the strong similarities and shared values that exist between the different communities, particularly the importance of traditional foods in bringing people together.

Iqaluit at sunrise with the last sealift boat still in the bay

My trip to Iqaluit came after almost nine months of data collection for the IHACC evaluation project (also known as the Evaluating Indigenous Vulnerability and Adaptation Research (EIVAR) project). The project aims to reflect on local experiences with the IHACC research program and other community-based adaptation research projects in the three IHACC regions, which include the Peruvian Amazon, southwestern Uganda, and the Canadian Arctic. The ultimate goal of the project is to evaluate IHACC and to develop a framework that can be used to monitor and evaluate other community-based adaptation research programs.

Since early February, we have been conducting semi-structured interviews and focus groups with IHACC researchers, institutional partners, and community members to talk about their experiences with the IHACC program and their views on research. After spending extensive time in Uganda and Peru earlier this year, I was very excited to experience the Canadian Arctic and to complete the data collection for this project.

Two country foods: frozen caribou and narwhal muqtuqMy trip to Iqaluit was an incredibly rich experience. The work went very smoothly thanks to the kind folks at the Nunavut Research Institute and the great support I received from my research assistant, Ooloota. For the first week, I was also accompanied by Anna Bunce, who introduced me to some key IHACC collaborators and personal friends in town. In my experience across the IHACC regions, it has been essential to be introduced by someone who already has a strong relationship with the community, and Anna’s excellent connections and advice further highlighted this point. I soon felt right at home and quickly learned that being from the Boston area was an immediate source of bonding with the many Bruins fans living in Iqaluit. Over the two weeks, I spent many evenings with my new friend, Naomi, learning about how to make the best kamiks (traditional sealskin boots), eating delicious country food, and trying my hand at radio bingo. I was also able to speak with the Nunavut Teacher Education Program at Arctic College about the Indigenous communities in Peru and Uganda, which tied into their discussion of cross-cultural communication in teaching. I became so busy that I hardly noticed the days getting shorter and was surprised when my last day had only six hours of daylight.

As the data collection phase of this project comes to a close, I feel so grateful for the warmth and openness of the people I have encountered in every IHACC region this year. I look forward to sharing the results of this evaluation in the upcoming months and hope that the ‘best practices’ and ‘lessons learned’ we identify from this work can inform and improve research with these communities in the future.

IHACC outreach with the Nunavut Teacher Education Program at Arctic College