Inuit Co-management Led Research



With support from IISAAK OLAM Foundation

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Inuit are deeply connected to their homelands and waters. The Inuit laws and customary practices remain important today despite decades of colonial wildlife management approaches.

In the 1970s, Inuit mobilized new political organizations and entered into negotiations with the Government of Canada. This led to historic land claim agreements. The first momentous agreement was reached in 1975 when Inuit and Cree negotiated the James Bay and Northern Quebec Agreement.

In the decades that followed, Inuit signed new land claim agreements in Inuvialuit, Nunavut, Nunavik, and Nunatsiavut. In each of these agreements Inuit negotiated the co-management of fish and wildlife through co-management boards.

The George River Caribou Herd, Fraser Valley, Nunatsiavut
Photo Credit: David Borish

Torngat Wildlife and Plants Co-management Board

While several Inuit co-management boards exist throughout the Canadian Arctic, we highlight the Torngat Wildlife and Plants Co-management Board as a case study. The Board was created from the 2005 Labrador and Inuit Land Claims Agreement.

The Board includes:

  • one independent chairperson,
  • one appointee by the Government of Canada,
  • two appointees by the Government of Newfoundland and Labrador, and
  • three appointees by the Inuit Government of Nunatsiavut.

Working together, the Board makes conservation recommendations and decisions about total allowable harvests for some species. This work requires knowledge and research and a lot of dialogue.


Inuit Nunangat Co-management Network
Map Credit: Shawn Rivoire and Jamie Snook, Torngat Wildlife Plants and Fisheries Secretariat

What is Indigenous Co-management Led Research?

Indigenous co-management led research refers to research conducted by a co-management board established through a land claim agreement. This type of co-management research is done by, for, and with Indigenous Peoples.

Indigenous co-management led research respects the spirit and intent of treaties signed in Canada.

This research approach disrupts colonial research paradigms that have harmed Indigenous Peoples, and ignored or unethically used Indigenous knowledge. Instead, the research privileges and respects Indigenous Peoples’ priorities, engagement, and knowledge in the research process.

Here are some examples of how prioritizing Inuit voices has led to new research and conservation efforts.

Karl Michelin and Aaron Dale Walking Back to the Helicopter on a Caribou Film Trip Outside of Rigolet, Nunatsiavut
Photo Credit: David Borish

Inuit-led Caribou Conservation

There are three main caribou herds in Labrador that Inuit care deeply about. The Mealy Mountains Caribou Herd, George River Caribou Herd, and the Torngat Mountains Caribou Herd.


Range of Torngat Mountain, George River, and Mealy Mountain Caribou Herds
Map Credit: Shawn Rivoire

Similar to other communities across the Circumpolar North, Inuit in Labrador share a reciprocal, respectful, and enduring relationship with this animal that has persisted over thousands of years.

Inuit communities are connected to caribou in a diversity of ways, including as a source of food, culture, identity, spirituality, clothing, physical health, mental and emotional well-being, and livelihoods. The experience of hunting, preparing, and sharing caribou was a deeply social experience that connected Inuit with their lands, and facilitated opportunities for youth to learn cultural knowledge from their Elders.

Aerial Image of Mealy Mountain Caribou Taken via Helicopter
Photo Credit: David Borish

Of these three herds, less was known and documented about the Torngat Mountains caribou herd. In part, this is because of the herd’s remote geography and its relatively small population.

For example, there are approximately 2,400 caribou in the Torngat Mountains herd, while the George River herd once numbered in the hundreds of thousands.

Over the past decades, the George River herd declined by 99% leaving it seriously at risk. Reasons for these declines are complex and interrelated. Some of the sources believed to be contributing to these population changes include: climate change; habitat loss due to human developments, such as logging, mineral extraction, hydro, and road developments; and changes in predator-prey dynamics.

George River Caribou, Fraser Valley, Nunatsiavut
Photo Credit: David Borish

Torngat Mountains Caribou

Given Inuit’s concern about the George River herd’s steep decline, it is a priority for Inuit to ensure the Torngat Mountains herd is well cared for.

Inuit have immense knowledge and expertise about the Torngat Mountains caribou herd.

The Torngat Wildlife and Plants Co-management Board responded to Inuit concerns and prioritized researching the Torngat Mountains caribou. This led to an Inuit Knowledge study in 2014. The Board conducted the first survey of this herd in 2014, and follow up surveys in 2017 and 2021.

A Male Caribou Outside of Rigolet, Nunatsiavut
Photo Credit: David Borish

Landscape of Torngat Mountains

Landscape within the Torngat Mountains
Photo Credit: David Borish

Co-production of Knowledge

This research led to the co-production of new knowledge by Inuit, the Torngat Wildlife and Plants Co-management Board, and government partners. The Board used the results to determine that total allowable harvest levels, quotas, or harvesting bans were unnecessary management approaches throughout this time period in the Torngat Mountains.

This challenging research was enabled by Inuit leadership in Nunatsiavut and Nunavik in collaboration with government partners. We are proud of this research program and the knowledge we co-produced for decision-making.

Our collective research on Torngat Mountains caribou resulted in policy changes. The Committee on the Status of Endangered Wildlife in Canada changed its assessment of Torngat Mountains caribou from “data deficient” to “endangered.” The Board continues to monitor this herd and assess ongoing approaches for sustainable utilization of the herd.

The following reports summarizing this research can be read by clicking on the links below:

Mealy Mountain Caribou

In the southern parts of the Nunatsiavut territory, the Mealy Mountain caribou are traditionally as important to Inuit as the other caribou herds.

However, Inuit have been banned from harvesting these Mealy Mountain animals for decades. This has caused strong feelings amongst Inuit in the adjacent community of Rigolet. Many Inuit feel they have been criminalized for carrying out their traditional activity and providing food for their families.

Male Caribou Outside of Rigolet, Nunatsiavut
Photo Credit: David Borish

The Torngat Wildlife and Plants Co-management Board is prioritizing the stewardship of, and education about, this herd. The Board does so by working with Inuit knowledge holders, and sharing Inuit knowledge.

Part of the Board’s stewardship strategy includes:

  • re-connecting Inuit to traditional areas,
  • prioritizing cultural continuity, and
  • establishing a youth monitoring and cultural program in the winter of 2024.

In 2019, the Torngat Wildlife and Plants Co-management Board conducted more Inuit knowledge research throughout the range of the Mealy Mountain caribou herd. Through this work we learned about Inuit caribou narratives from Rigolet. Inuit expressed concerns about how the harvesting bans were implemented and enforced. They described feeling abandoned by government caribou managers.

In our research, we learned that people in Rigolet want to be caretakers of these caribou. This includes being more involved in caribou monitoring.

With the support of the National Boreal Caribou Knowledge Consortium, the Board was able to initiate traditional knowledge research. This research is ongoing.

Tuttusiugiannik: Going on a Caribou Hunt

In response to the worry about cultural continuity, the Torngat Wildlife and Plants Co-management Board launched an initiative called Tuttusiugiannik.

Without a caribou harvest, the connectedness to the land, traditions, and Inuit values has changed.

Going into the country is expensive and without a reason (to hunt caribou), many youth have not had the chance to develop the skills needed to do so. In part, this is because they have not been able to learn from adults and elders on caribou hunts.

In the winters of 2022 and 2023, the co-management board sponsored youth and knowledge holders to travel to the traditional caribou grounds. Groups traveled from the Inuit communities of Nain, Hopedale, Postville, and Makkovik.

The goals of this project are to:

  • maintain or develop the connectedness of youth to the land and to caribou
  • bridge the gap between youth, adults, and elders through shared experiences, and
  • encourage ongoing stewardship of caribou.

During the winter of 2024 there will be another experience planned from Rigolet.

Inuit chiseling ice in Shapio Lake

Inuit Chiseling Ice in Shapio Lake
Photo Credit: Shawn Rivoire

Paigitsiaguk: Taking Care of it

The Torngat Wildlife and Plants Co-management Board realized that successfully protecting caribou for future generations requires a different approach to education; specifically, the colonial education system embedded in Inuit communities.

To respond to this need, the Board launched a comprehensive education initiative called Paigitsiaguk. An Inuit educator with expertise in Western and Inuit knowledge systems is leading the project. In collaboration with Inuit educators and knowledge holders, the project is developing lesson plans and learning activities that teachers can use in the K-12 system. These activities meet the provincial curriculum guidelines and use traditional knowledge about caribou for both science and social study classes.

The co-management board believes education is the long-term solution for conservation and respectful relationships with caribou.

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Group of youth holding up a polar bear hide
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Examples of Learning Kits Being Developed through the Paigitsiaguk Project
Click the white arrows on either side of the picture to see more photos.
Photo Credits: David Borish

HERD: Inuit Voices on Caribou

There are many threats to caribou that are commonly discussed such as habitat loss and climate change. The Torngat Wildlife and Plants Co-management Board learned through Indigenous co-management led research that there is another major threat to caribou: the loss of cultural continuity.

It is important that young Inuit maintain a connection to caribou and are able to pass along traditional knowledge about them. This multi-generational process is threatened by blunt management approaches such as hunting bans that do not account for this important factor.

Recognizing this threat to caribou, the Torngat Wildlife and Plants Co-management Board collaborated on a community-based documentary film project. HERD: Inuit Voices on Caribou is about the impacts of changing caribou populations on Inuit communities.

Watch the trailer for HERD below.

HERD | Inuit Voices on Caribou


The project also included Inuit-led research and photography.

The goal of the project was to document, preserve, and share Inuit knowledge and experiences with caribou.

Between 2016-2022, the project team:

  • talked with, filmed, and photographed over 80 Inuit from across 11 distinct communities in Labrador,
  • documented caribou and landscapes from various parts of Labrador, and
  • collected archival multimedia from decades in the past.

We gathered over 100 hours of footage, thousands of photographs, and countless memories from knowledge holders. The HERD film is the motion version of our co-created story. We also published peer-reviewed articles and a photobook with these same voices, people, and caribou.

You can learn more at

Members of a Caribou Film Trip Outside of Nain in 2018. Left to right: Henry Lyall (Co-Management Board Member from Nain), Our Pilot, Aaron Dale (Torngat Secretariat), Eldred Allen (Inuit Drone Pilot), and David Borish
Photo Credit: David Borish