Joseph Mathieu, January 18, 2022

The Ărramăt Project: Reconnecting Indigenous Well-Being & Biodiversity

Although Indigenous Peoples make up only five per cent of the planet’s population, approximately 80 per cent of Earth’s biodiversity is located within their traditional territories. However, a decline in global biodiversity due to climate change, pollution and exploitation of land and its organisms has directly affected the well-being of Indigenous Peoples.

These intertwining factors will be addressed by a new project called, Ărramăt: Strengthening Health and Well-Being through Indigenous-Led Conservation and Sustainable Relationships with Biodiversity.

Of its recently announced $24-million budget from the federal government, more than half will go to place-based research initiatives led by Indigenous people from 24 different countries. The project has more than 150 Indigenous organizations, universities and other partners involved.

Ms. Yanika Thamoon, the ปกาเกอะญอ (Pgakenyau or Karen) women leader of Khun Mae Yod Community, Mae Chaem District, Chiang Mai Province, Thailand © Research from Ărramăt Partner Prasert Trakansuphakon – Pgakenyaw Association for Sustainable Development (PASD) Photographer: Mr. Boonsri Chalakkanok

Co-Principal Investigator is Carleton’s Danika Littlechild
One of the project’s co-principal investigators is Carleton University Assistant Professor of Law and Legal Studies Danika Littlechild, who, in 2014, was the first Indigenous woman appointed as vice-president of the Canadian Commission for UNESCO.

“People are starting to understand that Indigenous people are experts of their knowledge,” says Littlechild. “We aim to do the work differently than it’s been done in the past and to give Indigenous voices leverage and strength. In these ways, I think we’re going to see incredibly exciting transformative outcomes.”

Carleton University Assistant Professor of Law and Legal Studies Danika Littlechild is the Ărramăt Project Co-Principal Investigator

Littlechild is Cree from Ermineskin Cree Nation in Maskwacis, Treaty No. 6 territory. Prior to joining Carleton in early 2020, she practiced law for two decades—working with and for Indigenous Peoples. During her legal career, she had collaborated with the University of Alberta’s Brenda Parlee on issues such as chronic wasting disease in Alberta wildlife.

“We want to elevate Indigenous knowledge,” says Littlechild. “Giving Indigenous Peoples a leadership position in a major project like this allows Indigenous knowledge to be expressed without the need to be translated by an academic.”

The Ărramăt project aims to simultaneously empower Indigenous Peoples to apply their knowledge and to engage Indigenous youth in the realm of biodiversity conservation and land governance. The application of Indigenous knowledge systems to real-world, community-specific problems should elevate Indigenous Peoples and their languages, legal traditions and ways of life. The project will examine the links between the loss of biodiversity and the decline in Indigenous health, and the team will develop policy roadmaps for practical solutions in 10 areas according to the University of Alberta. These 10 areas include strengthening Indigenous food systems and re-establishing healthy relationships to wild species.

Ernest Boucher, Łutselkʼe Dene First Nation Elder, returning from a moose hunt on Great Slave Lake, NWT. Moose is a key source of food for many Northern Indigenous Peoples. Used with permission from Ernest Boucher. Photographer, Mark Smith 2015

Parlee is the lead co-principal investigator from the University of Alberta alongside Canada Research Chair in Indigenous Governance Sherry Pictou of Dalhousie University, Murray Humphries of McGill University, John O’Neil of Simon Fraser University and Mariam Wallet Aboubakrine, the former chair of the UN Permanent Forum on Indigenous Issues.

The project is funded by the New Frontiers in Research Fund (NFRF) in the Transformation stream which supports large-scale, Canadian-led interdisciplinary and international research projects with the potential to realize real and lasting change. Ărramăt builds on the model of Tracking Change, Parlee’s previous project that funded traditional knowledge research activities informing watershed governance in the Mackenzie River Basin.

Wallet Aboubakrine, a Tuareg medical doctor from Mali, is an advocate for the rights of Indigenous Peoples—especially Indigenous women—and has long focused on the well-being of her people’s ancestral territories in Algeria, Burkina-Faso, Libya, Mali and Niger.

Ărramăt is a Tuareg word for a complex concept commonly found in Indigenous cultures. In Te Reo Māori the word is kaitiakitanga. In Mi’kmaq it’s netukulimk and in Quechua it’s ayllu. All terms refer to the foundational understanding that all living beings and nonliving things are interconnected, and that human beings have a responsibility toward nature.

In Tamasheq, the Indigenous language of the Tuareg, Ărramăt describes a state of well-being between the environment, its plants and animals, and human beings.

“Ărramăt recognizes Indigenous Peoples as the experts of their own systems, with the capacity for self-determination in the context of research and data mobilization,” says Littlechild.

By 2027, the team is anticipating a diversity of exciting outcomes and policy solutions that will address the well-being of Indigenous communities, biodiversity conservation and governance issues. The project should give rise to knowledge sharing and education tools, and culturally appropriate models that Littlechild expects will be recognized by biodiversity conservation institutions like the UN’s Convention on Biological Diversity.

Indigenous Knowledge emanates from the ground. This photo is from research with the Baiga Tribe of Sonbhadra Uttar Pradesh, India. Photograph by Ărramăt Partner, Dr. Vincent Ekka (Indian Social Institute).

Carleton University Collaborators
Among the dozens of worldwide collaborators are Carleton’s Frances Abele, Shari Fox, Peter Pulsifer and Chancellor’s Distinguished Research Professor D.R. Fraser Taylor, all of whom will play expertise support roles.

Pulsifer, the Associate Director of the Geomatics and Cartographic Research Centre (GCRC), primarily conducts research with Indigenous communities in the Arctic. He will provide knowledge and experience on the community-led information projects in digital forms in ethical and culturally-appropriate ways.

Fox, the Director of Northern Programs at the GCRC, has worked collaboratively with Indigenous communities and organizations in the Arctic for over 20 years. She will help to facilitate engagement between northern communities and the Ărramăt project.

Abele, the Chancellor’s Professor of Public Policy and Administration and supervisor of the graduate program in Indigenous Policy and Administration, is hopeful the team can build understanding across all of the regions by working from the insights and strengths of Indigenous Peoples.

“This project is magnificently ambitious and at the same time practical,” says Abele. “Most large projects have some international participation, but I have seen none that are so thoroughly international, in the sense of being grounded in each participating country.”

Ever since early 2020, Littlechild has dared to dream that this project could lead to life-changing solutions for the planet and for future generations.

“It is such an affirmation that we received funding for what we fundamentally believe will be very transformative not just for Indigenous Peoples, but I think for the benefit of all people and Mother Earth.”

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