Tuktoyaktuk Research Summary Booklet

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INTRODUCTION Beluga whale (Delphinapterus leucas) were historically one of the most important sources of nutrition for the Inuvialuit of the Mackenzie River Delta region.Seasonal harvests of the species remain an important source of nutrition and facet of cultural identity for some modern Inuvialuit. Through continuous interaction with plants and animal species over hundreds of years, Inuvialuit possess extensive bodies of traditional ecological knowledge (TEK) of species like beluga. Despite ongoing scientific studies of beluga in the Inuvialuit Settlement Region (ISR), Inuvialuit being the major stakeholders in management outcomes of the species, and legally mandated inclusion of TEK in comanagement structures, there has been little research examining TEK of beluga in the ISR, and only a limited number of studies of TEK of beluga in polar regions more broadly.. The need for more equitable inclusion of TEK in management decisions is only made more pressing by the ecological changes observed and predicted to occur under changing climatic conditions.


METHODS Data Collection The research was conducted with Inuvialuit living in Tuktoyaktuk, NT, following established community based research methods7. A pre-research consultation was conducted through a community visit and participation in the Inuvik Beluga Summit in February 2016. Data were collected with a local Inuvialuit community researcher during a field season between June and August 2016 using ethnographic field methods including semi-structured interviews and participant observation. Interviews were conducted with 17 active and formerly active harvesters, and included open ended questions and participatory mapping. The interview guide was modeled after a similar study conducted in Ulukhaktok, NT, and focused on knowledge of beluga behaviour and ecology, hunting techniques, and food preparation (Pearce & Collings, in review ). Observations of change in the environment and values about beluga emerged as prominent themes throughout the interviews.








“As soon as they hear boats they rush back out into the deep water, and it’s hard to hunt them in the deep water, where its muddy eh? You can’t see them” - Sam Gruben, 72 •

Whales seem to know when they are not being hunted and will approach boats


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Observation of beluga is limited to surface behaviour due to turbid water in Kugmallit Bay (Mackenzie River Estuary) Whales come to area in the spring from the west following leads from the spring ice break up Whales congregate in Kugmallit Bay to give birth, where the water is shallow and warm Beluga congregate and calve on the south side of Hendrickson Island Beluga are highly sensitive to anthropogenic noise, and will leave Hendrickson Island area for Warren/Toker Point across Kugmallit Bay if there too much disturbance


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Best conditions to hunt are sunny days with calm, glassy surface at low water (tide), more wind/waves makes hunting more difficult and increases risk Hunters do not target or harass female whales with young Whales must be followed by the wake left by their tails or the wave pushed in front of them due to the murky water in the bay Hunters are required by community/ISR bylaws to harpoon whales first to reduce incidences of struck/loss whales

“[Beluga] leave wakes behind them, some big ones, they’re easy to follow...in dirty water like this from the river it’s the only way to follow them” – Wayne Cockney, 58 • •

Hunters try to make a quick kill after harpooning to reduce suffering Hunters with resources (boat, time) will hunt for those without the means for whale hunting who want a whale and are ready to prepare it, usually in exchange for fuel, cartridges etc.

“Once you prepare it you gotta watch it, you have to stir your pails [of uqsuq] depending how hot it is, maybe 4 times a day” – Charles Pokiak, 52 •


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Hunters typically use beluga for muktuk (skin and thin layer of blubber), uqsuq (beluga oil derived from blubber), and mipku (dried and salted beluga meat) Muktuk is prepared fresh/raw, cooked, or aged/fermented Risk of botulism for all muktuk preparation if it is not done properly; knowledge and experience of preparation process is key for food safety

Fermented muktuk is made by layering fresh muktuk and strips of uqsuq in 5-gallon plastic pails, must be kept in a cool place and stirred at least two times a day, aged 2-5 days depending on preference for strength of flavour Beluga meat is cut into thin strips, strips are salted and hung to be smoked and dried like jerky for 2-3 days depending on temperature Uqsuq is produced from strips of beluga blubber that are placed in a 5 gallon bucket and oil is allowed to render out Used for dipping meat/fish into, sometimes with salt as well, “similar to ketchup”

“If you want to age the muktuk...if it’s aged for two or three days it’s pretty good, but if you age it about a week it tastes even better, it’s a little stronger” – Roy Cockney, 73



“Its enjoyable for me to go out and hunt, and know that we’ll be eating good all winter...It’s a very important food that we need throughout the winter” – Lucky Pokiak, 37

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”Beluga is our potato” - Beluga is considered by some to be a staple Not always enjoyable to prepare is it is hot or buggy, but enjoyable to go out and hunt and know that they will be eating well for the winter Care taken when hunting/preparing whale so as to not lose it, “don’t want to kill an animal for nothing” Beluga adds valued variety from caribou, fish, dry fish etc.

“And that’s what we live on, that’s our grub, elders can’t go without it, they run out of uqsuq, the blubber, they would ask people, how much craving they have for it” – Roy Cockney, 73

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Uqsuq (beluga oil) can’t be replaced with something from the store Muktuk and uqsuq “keeps people going” on winter trips Flipper and fluke are often the favourite part of the whale, and can be prepared fresh on the beach by roasting over a fire

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“It does seem it’s been a lot windier for the past two or three years, more wind and cloud” – Lucky Pokiak, 37 “The weather I find in the past five years really changed and it changes so quick now” – Raymond Cockney, 32 “The weather [has] become unpredictable, day to day, hour to hour sometimes” – Peter Nogasak, 70 • • • • •

Conditions have been windier with more cloud the last 2-3 years Wind direction is also changing, more easterly winds Weather is more difficult to predict and changes faster than in the past Whales arrived mid-June 2016, 2-2.5 weeks earlier than normal Whales are thinner now than they were in the 70s and 80s

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Conditions have been windier with more cloud the last 2-3 years Wind direction is also changing, more easterly winds Weather is more difficult to predict and changes faster than in the past Whales arrived mid-June 2016, 2-2.5 weeks earlier than normal Whales are thinner now than they were in the 70s and 80s Whales used to be utilized more before distribution of other animals changed and made them more available (moose, caribou) Some hunters may be waiting longer to hunt due to warmer weather, but overlaps with time when whales changing behaviour in late July makes them harder to hunt, which may lead to less whales being landed

SUMMARY The research findings demonstrate that Inuvialuit in Tuktoyaktuk possess nuanced understandings of beluga whale, particularly regarding effective hunting techniques and proper subsistence food preparation procedures. The research also reveals the climatic changes impacting humanbeluga relations. The climatic changes being observed in the region are beginning to impact TEK and its use in Tuktoyaktuk. Knowledge is being updated, and techniques are being adapted to deal with the changes seen in the beluga hunting sector, and participants’ responses indicate that beluga and Inuvialuit seem to be coping thus far. Participants note that they believe whales are still healthy, despite a slight decrease in blubber thickness, and that hunters are still able to secure and prepare whales effectively.

However, if conditions continue to change, or these changes accelerate, they may move out of the coping range of the whales and the Inuvialuit that rely on them, with implications for beluga harvesting and the benefits that are derived by Inuvialuit. There is typically a wide range in the number of whales landed each season, with weather being a major factor in the number. This research intends to contribute to the inclusion of Inuvialuit TEK of beluga in co-management structures that better reflects the knowledge, values, and ontology of Inuvialuit stakeholders.

ACKNOWLEDGMENTS This research would not be possible without the willingness of the community of Tuktoyaktuk to be open and supportive of the research. I would particularly like to thank the Tuktoyaktuk Hunters and Trappers Committee for supporting the research and providing feedback throughout the research process. I would also to thank Verna Pokiak for her hard work and professionalism throughout the field season as research assistant, and her sage advice over many cups of tea and coffee. I thank James Pokiak, Raymond Cockney, Boogie Pokiak, Lucky Pokiak, Charles Pokiak, Sam Gruben, Wayne Cockney, Roy Cockney, Raymond Mangelana, Sam Pingo, Willy Carpenter, Peter Nogasak, Frank Pokiak, Nellie Pokiak, Ron Felix, and two anonymous participants for graciously sharing their incredible knowledge of beluga, just a small facet of the collective knowledge of the environment in the community. The participants’ kindness and enthusiasm for beluga made the research a pleasure to undertake.

Thanks to Sonja Ostertag and Lisa Loseto for introducing me to the community, and for their support and expertise on our several trips in the ISR. I would also like to thank my parents, Neil and Rosanne, my sister Emily, and my girlfriend Leah for their love and support over the last two years. Thanks to Office 351 and the rest of the Hutt family for the on-campus comradery and support throughout this journey. Thanks to Tristan Pearce and Ben Bradshaw for taking me on as a student, and guiding me through the incredible experience that has been arctic research; and to Peter Collings for providing excellent intellectual guidance in the production of a manuscript from this work. Finally, I acknowledge financial support from the Aurora Research Institute, the Northern Scientific Training Program (NSTP), SHERC, NSERC, Fisheries and Oceans Canada, the Northern Contaminants Program, the Fisheries Joint Management Committee, and ArcticNet Project 1.8 - Knowledge Co-Production for the Identification and Selection of Ecological, Social, and Economic Indicators for the Beaufort Sea

For more information about this research, contact waughd@uoguelph.ca

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