Freeing Nova Scotia’s oysters from a parasite’s hold
Armed with Traditional Knowledge and modern science, a small team hunts for the sweet spot...
There are many iconic places in Canada’s North, but few give me a sense of awe like the barrenlands of the Northwest Territories. The remote, treeless landscape of rolling tundra and rocky outcrop extends in every direction as far as one can see.
Russell Drybones, a tall and lanky Dene guide, is, like the rest of us, looking for caribou.
“You can feel them, you know. The ground moves,” says Drybones, who earned the nickname Eagle Eyes for his ability to spot a caribou several kilometres away. “Who knows, maybe over that esker is 1,000 caribou ready to run and shake the land.”
But we don’t see 1,000 caribou. We don’t even see a handful. We’re not sure where they are and we’ve been looking for three days.
The population of the Bathurst caribou herd has plummeted in recent decades. In the 1990s, the herd was celebrated as a healthy migratory population in the hundreds of thousands. But today, there are roughly 10,000 individuals.
In 2015, the Tłı̨chǫ Dene communities of the Northwest Territories banned hunting with hopes it would help the herd rebound. But monitoring the health of a migratory herd that traverses thousands of kilometres of barren land a year is no small feat. It takes patience, persistence and intimacy with a remote herd very few people on the planet — even those in the Northwest Territories — will ever see.
I spent 11 days at a small camp 500 kilometres north of Yellowknife documenting the work of the Ekwǫ̀ Nàxoède K’è: Boots on the Ground program, initiated by the Tłı̨chǫ Government to collect critical field knowledge of the herd and its habitat.
The monitoring program is unique in its design. Ekwǫ̀ Nàxoède K’è comes from the Tłı̨chǫ language and refers to the movement of the caribou herd throughout the year, from the calving grounds to the forest and back again. It encompasses the whole life cycle of the caribou.
The program’s methodology follows a specific principle drawn from the very ways of life of traditional caribou harvesters: “do as hunters do.” Researchers attend to the herd and the landscape under a holistic concept of “we watch everything” that comes from Tłı̨chǫ Elders. They wait at na’oke, or water crossings, to track details about caribou and the environment, from predators to changes on the landscape from industrial activities.
The program is much more than a research project on caribou — it’s also a way for Tłı̨chǫ Dene to stay connected to their culture and identity.
The days were long, sometimes monotonous, with several hours of hiking and boating. It is a slow and patient way to study caribou and collect information. But it also allows for rich collaboration. The team — consisting of Tłı̨chǫ Dene Elders, officers from the territory’s Department of Environment and Natural Resources and researchers — made sure everyone was fed, safe from wildlife and rested.
That kind of collaborative effort is invaluable in a land that’s inhospitable, even potentially dangerous, despite being so full of beauty.
Editor’s note: Pat Kane’s documentary photography of the Ekwǫ̀ Nàxoède K’è: Boots on the Ground program was supported by funding from the Tłı̨chǫ Government. As per The Narwhal’s editorial independence policy, the Tłı̨chǫ Government did not have any influence on the production of this work.
And since you’re here, we have a favour to ask. Our independent, ad-free journalism is made possible because the people who value our work also support it (did we mention our stories are free for all to read, not just those who can afford to pay?).
As a non-profit, reader-funded news organization, our goal isn’t to sell advertising or to please corporate bigwigs — it’s to bring evidence-based news and analysis to the surface for all Canadians. And at a time when most news organizations have been laying off reporters, we’ve hired five journalists over the past year.
Not only are we filling a void in environment coverage, but we’re also telling stories differently — by centring Indigenous voices, by building community and by doing it all as a people-powered, non-profit outlet supported by more than 3,300 members.
The truth is we wouldn’t be here without you. Every single one of you who reads and shares our articles is a crucial part of building a new model for Canadian journalism that puts people before profit.
We know that these days the world’s problems can feel a *touch* overwhelming. It’s easy to feel like what we do doesn’t make any difference, but becoming a member of The Narwhal is one small way you truly can make a difference.
We’ve drafted a plan to make 2021 our biggest year yet, but we need your support to make it all happen.
If you believe news organizations should report to their readers, not advertisers or shareholders, please become a monthly member of The Narwhal today for any amount you can afford.
We’ve got big plans to launch an Ontario bureau. Will you show your support by signing up for a weekly dose of our ad‑free, independent journalism?