Harvesters and members of guardian monitoring programs across the north met in Yellowknife to talk about how they can better share and raise money to carry on the work that they do.
Traditional knowledge holders like Lennie Emaghok who is with the Imaryuk monitoring program, are the eyes and ears along the Inuvik to Tuktoyaktuk Highway for locals and visitors.
“I can’t remember how many pamphlets we gave out the first year the highway opened  but we ran out because of tourism,” Emaghok said. “There was quite a bit of interest on fishing where and who can fish.”
These monitoring programs don’t get their money from the territorial or federal government.
It’s important work that includes documenting exposed permafrost from climate change and promoting wildlife conservation to non-beneficiaries (who would non-beneficiaries be?) visiting the area they help protect which is called Imaryuk, which translates to Husky Lakes in Inuinnaqtun.
Monitors are the everyday boots on the ground people performing the tasks of highways, infrastructure, and lands departments.
“We know who to contact for issues with permafrost exposure close to the highway, and they lean on our reports and findings for their information,” Emaghok said.
But the data given to territorial departments is also shared between Elder Emaghok and youth monitor Joshua Teddy.
“Most of his schooling was going with my dad reindeer herding, and through storytelling with Josh about this spot and that spot I’m passing on those stories,” Emaghok said.
Teddy admits it’s a challenging but rewarding job.
For instance, there are over 200 culverts along the 138 km stretch of highway, the monitors inspect.
“We check the water levels on bridge areas and creeks that we know the fish use and if we notice it’s slow, we know it could be a beaver dam blocking, so we get a permit and try to eliminate that dam,” Teddy said.
With climate change, beavers are venturing further north, encroaching the area, and plugging up creeks that block fish passages to the lakes.
Teddy is taking notes from other land-based programs on how they capture more data to better understand the changing landscape.
“It’s been amazing to meet other people in monitoring or harvesting or guardian programs and hear what they are doing. It would be nice to go to their town and see what they do on a regular basis for their reports,” he said.
The gathering in Yellowknife is organized by MakeWay, a national not-for-profit organization that aims to improve the social wellbeing of community-based programs.
Steve Ellis, program lead for northern Canada, said the four participants will continue to meet over the coming year to assess how the changes to their reporting and data collection are going.
The participants include the Ni Hat’ni Dene Guardians of Thaidene Nëné, the Imaryuk Monitoring Program from the Inuvialuit Settlement Region, Dechinta Centre for Research and Learning and Ittaq Monitors from Clyde River, Nunavut.
“Typically, research or monitoring or education aren’t done in these sorts of land-based professional capacities and we’re looking at sort of flipping the narrative around, Ellis said. “So yes, this is actually really effective food security programming, this is really effective mental health programming, it’s really effective biomonitoring programming, this is really effective restorative justice, and these are actually suicide prevention programs.”
On-the-land roles have had important places in Indigenous communities so placing a dollar figure on that information is new.
“It is that exercise of translating into a language that’s immediately understandable by an audience that’s not embedded in northern Indigenous communities. I think all these programs are willing to make that leap and say that said we need these numbers,” he said.
The four-day gathering was hosted on Mackenzie Island, a ten-minute boat ride from Dettah, on the traditional lands of the Yellowknives Dene First Nation
Charlene Liske, the lands and culture resource director with Dechinta Center for Research and Learning, said she was proud to help host the other groups visiting for the gathering.
“We’ve already made a connection with everyone, and the Delta participants (imaryuk monitors) were right with our Elders when they’re on the boat around the fire pits telling stories,” Liske said.
Over the last decade Dechinta has grown to offer on-the-land learning in various regions of the N.W.T.
Liske said the organization is planning to consolidate years of data and work it into an accessible dashboard for community members to see the impact the program has regionally.
“We work on the land all year round, to actually see the numbers see how much we are harvesting and giving back to our communities, that’s why I’m getting excited,” Liske said. If we get a call from somebody or community member or funders, it [data] will be there calculating itself every day.