In February 2023, the Northern Indigenous Stewardship Circle gathered in person in Yellowknife, Northwest Territories, bringing together stewardship leaders from across the North. Technical Support Team facilitator Jimmy Morgan sat down with the Project Director, Amos Scott to learn more about the gathering and the vision for the Circle.
Tell us a little bit about the Northern Indigenous Stewardship Circle. What is the vision for the Circle? What role is the Circle playing to support Guardians? Who's involved?
The Northern Indigenous Stewardship Circle started in 2021, following three gatherings hosted by Tides Canada, now MakeWay Charitable Society, in northern Canada for northern Guardians. The kind of conversations Guardians from across northern Canada were having at those gatherings told us that they wanted to continue to learn from each other and find new ways to do that. They wanted an opportunity to be a part of a network of Guardian programs across the North. After a strategic planning session, MakeWay agreed to support a network in the North and we launched the Northern Indigenous Stewardship Circle. I recently changed the name from network to circle for a handful of reasons, it just embodies more of Indigenous Knowledge by calling it a Circle. Here in the North, I think we also have a lot of similar dynamics between Guardian programs, regardless of being from Nunavut or the Yukon, or the Northwest Territories, and even other parts of northern Canada. The Circle just seems like a more holistic approach, which is partly how I'm trying to approach developing it.
The Circle is also governed by a steering committee of northern Guardians or people involved in northern Guardian programs. I think that’s where the real vision comes from. I'm just here to try to make it happen. The steering committee is Kirt Ruben Community Based Monitoring – Project Manager from the Inuvialuit, Keenan “Nooks” Lindell is an artist from Arviat, Tanya Ball, Dena Kayeh Institute coordinator and land guardian coordinator for the Dane nan yḗ dāh program. We also have Dahti Tsetso, Indigenous Leadership Initiative deputy director and previously, manager of Dehcho K'éhodi Stewardship & Guardian Program and Hannah Taneton, Sahtu Kaowe Guardians Manager, as Co-Chairs. It's meant to be for northern Guardian programs, so that's who's involved.
The purpose of the gathering in early February was to announce the Circle, maybe you can tell us a little bit about that and what made this gathering especially important.
I hosted the first event under the banner of the Northern Indigenous Stewardship Circle in February. It's an event that I've been trying to host for a while, but I was trying to make it too big. At one point I realized what is great about northerners and northern communities is that our events feel like community. Our community events are very small but with lots of people in the room chatting and joking, and I wanted to try to mimic that. So, I scaled the gathering down and called it a sharing circle so that Guardians from all parts of the North can come and just share their work. I introduced the Circle as a safe space Guardians have to share their work. This way, the gathering encouraged people to get to know each other, to laugh and joke with one another, and over time, build an organic kind of friendship and relationship that I hope will blossom beyond the trappings of the Northern Indigenous Stewardship Circle events, you know, so that they will reach out amongst themselves.
Yeah, it sounds great. It sounds like the smaller events and giving the opportunity to have those laughs and those chats together is one of the key components to the Circle.
I believe so. This was the first one and I hope to do many more in this smaller format, rather than a big conference. I think what we've heard from Guardians that attended is that they think getting to chat and laugh together is one of the most important things about the Circle. We know these communities in the North are not isolated, but in a way the work they do is siloed. Because Guardians work within their own traditional territories, they don't often get the chance to chat with others about work that is similar to theirs, whether that’s about the challenges they face or some of the cool things that they get to do. I think it's really helpful for them to feel like they're not alone, and they feel that way when hanging out with other Guardians.
One thing I'm curious about is how Traditional Knowledge and ways of life guide the work of the Guardians in the Circle. At the gathering I was really struck that a lot of these projects and programs are really guided and carried out by the Guardians themselves, using their traditional knowledge. Can you tell us a bit more about that?
I think in the North, in general, you'll see that's one of the strengths of our communities, we're still very much land-based communities that rely on harvesting from the land and making a living from the land. Guardian programs tend to be an extension of that, so Traditional Knowledge then becomes embedded in the governance and accountability of how they run their programs. This all goes back to Guardian’s traditional Indigenous value systems and how they respect land, how they care for the land, and how they govern themselves. Rather than it be from a colonial or western science view of program development, programs start with their value system and ways of life first and that becomes the foundation of their program. And yes, they'll bring in western science, but the foundation comes from their Indigenous Knowledge systems first and western science complements that. I just think it's one of the strengths in the North is because and that's partly because we're still very much land based communities. Also, our Elders guide a lot of the Guardian programs in the North. They are the visionaries of these programs and bring that ancient knowledge to strategic program planning. That's how these Guardians start out and it becomes embedded in their role as a Guardian.
In my point of view, it is a strength of the region. You're weaving western science into your culture and into your Indigenous Knowledge rather than the other way around. It’s really special what you guys have, it’s beautiful. Are there any other key components to the Circle that make a network like this work?
I think what is super important is finding ways to support Guardians in ways they might not be able to do themselves, either because they're too busy or they don't have the capacity. I believe that this type of work is really important to the future of northern communities, to the governance and leadership of our communities and to heal from past wrongs from colonization and residential schools. Guardian programs are the answer to healing from a lot of that. In order for Guardians programs to be successful they need a support system. The Northern Indigenous Stewardship Circle is meant to be a support system for these Guardians.
Great. Is there anything else that you want to highlight or showcase about the Northern Indigenous Stewardship Circle?
I think I’ll just end by saying I have some big ideas and we're going to hear about them soon. I hope this kind of work grows and expands over the years. After this gathering, I am feeling more sure-footed in the work that I have to do.