ARF works with Inuit community to solve urgent challenges

The Team

Arctic Research Foundation (ARF)

The Challenge

Helping empower Inuit communities to lead efforts addressing urgent challenges in the North

The Solution

Facilitating community-led solutions for some of the biggest problems facing Northern communities

The Outcome

Innovative projects including a new collaborative Arctic research repository designed to break down silos in Arctic research and a digital storytelling platform to increase engagement and generate awareness about Arctic issues

The Arctic Research Foundation is doing things differently to help empower Inuit communities to take the lead in determining and directing projects that address their most pressing challenges

Inclusive foundation is a first-of-its-kind catalyst for science, economic and infrastructure development in the Arctic

The innovative work of the not-for-profit Arctic Research Foundation (ARF) facilitates community-led solutions for some of the biggest problems facing Northern communities, such as the need for green energy, standardizing and better disseminating data from Arctic research, addressing disruptions in food supply from the land, and responding to rapid changes in lake and ocean water and the impact on fisheries and marine mammals.

The foundation’s work is critical because the Arctic is warming three to six times faster than the rest of the world, which makes understanding and adapting to climate change a top priority. As the Arctic warms, waterways are changing, leading to migratory shifts, increases in invasive species, and increased disease in aquatic species. Permafrost erosion is making infrastructure unstable, while traditional food sources become more difficult to harvest. Communication can also be a challenge since many Arctic communities still lack reliable, high-speed Internet.

Since joining ARF in 2018, ARF Chief Operating Officer Tom Henheffer has partnered with more than two dozen Mitacs interns who have been instrumental in building Canada’s newest, free-to-use, data-agnostic collaborative Arctic research repository. ARF’s Arctic Research Database is designed to break down silos in Arctic research and ensure everyone from Indigenous Northerners to scientists, public servants, politicians and journalists can easily access and share a wealth of meaningful data. Interns are also improving ArcticFocus – ARF’s digital storytelling platform – to increase engagement and generate awareness about Arctic issues. A Mitacs intern is helping to lay the groundwork for a sustainable fishery on Great Slave Lake in the Northwest Territories.

“In some places, hydro poles that were safely planted in permafrost are beginning to topple, and entire homes are on the verge of falling into the sea,” said Henheffer. “At the same time, food supplies are changing, with herds of caribou altering their migratory patterns, fish species such as salmon appearing for the first time in parts of the Arctic, and increasing amounts of disease being found in aquatic animals.”

With its live alpha completed and a beta version going live this past fall, the Arctic Research Database — a partnership between ARF, Red River College and the University of Manitoba — is helping to solve Arctic challenges by giving researchers a new place to store their primary research data for publication and public access, regardless of discipline. It is planned to become a test bed for Arctic data standards and will add visualization and interoperability features over the next two years.

The ArcticFocus website and storytelling platform is a novel digital magazine that not only provides a place for scientists, journalists and Northern and Indigenous writers to publish their stories, but also attracts diverse audiences to learn more about everything from climate science and Arctic politics, to Indigenous culture and mythology.

“It has allowed us to grow our online audience from 90,000 impressions [number of people who see a post] per week to upwards of 500,000,” said Henheffer, adding that the Mitacs project will also result in a report on best practices for engaging and retaining diverse audiences that will keep ArcticFocus, and other platforms like it, growing over the long term.

Lastly, the Great Slave Lake Sustainable Fisheries initiative — launched at the request of the Northwest Territories and communities surrounding the lake — is laying vital groundwork by mapping who the lake’s rights holders and stakeholders are, what parts of the lake they oversee, and what their needs in a sustainable fishing industry will be.

Its innovative work has earned the ARF the Mitacs Award for Outstanding Innovation—Industry, which was accepted by Henheffer at a ceremony at the National Arts Centre in Ottawa on November 22, 2022.

“This award is a testament to how effective and important community-led initiatives are,” said Henheffer. “By conducting the research and enabling the projects Northerners want, we’re better able to do the critical work of understanding and mitigating a rapidly changing Arctic.”

“Our Mitacs project is enabling the initial work to actually get a sustainable fishing industry off of the ground on Great Slave Lake,” explained Henheffer. “It will build a foundation on which a thriving fishery – one that benefits local communities without upsetting the lake’s delicate ecological balance – can develop.”

Best known for the discovery of the Franklin Expedition ships and the five research vessels it deploys in the field, ARF is on a mission to be a catalyst for community-led science, economic and infrastructure development in the North.

“We’re not just sitting behind a desk doing studies, we’re out in the field doing work and making sure the community is leading that work,” said Henheffer. “When you’re working in the Arctic you need to be adaptable, modular and always looking for creative solutions to problems. Mitacs is a creative funding model that enables us to address key issues that otherwise would not be funded.”

Mitacs’s programs receive funding from valued partners across Canada. We thank the Government of Canada, the Government of Alberta, the Government of British Columbia, Research Manitoba, the Government of New Brunswick, the Government of Newfoundland and Labrador, the Government of Nova Scotia, the Government of Ontario, Innovation PEI, the Government of Quebec, the Government of Saskatchewan, and the Government of Yukon for supporting us to foster innovation and economic growth throughout the country. 

Do you have a business challenge that could benefit from a research solution? If so, contact Mitacs today to discuss partnership opportunities:

Mitacs Team
Mitacs Team

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