Co-production de connaissances, création de capital social et représentation du savoir local dans le suivi d'un socio-écosystème humains - Rangifer

Catherine A. Gagnon
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 Studying and managing social-ecological systems are information intensive endeavours. They necessitate every source of valid knowledge available, including science and local indigenous culture and practice. In the Canadian Arctic, the study and management of human-Rangifer social-ecological systems occur in an interesting setting. First, the socio-political context in northern Canada promotes a broader involvement of indigenous communities and their knowledge within environmental research and management processes. Second, there is an urgent need to improve our understanding of the environmental factors influencing caribou demography, because most large migratory herds are declining and this compromises the culture and livelihoods of several indigenous communities. Finally, scientific data is often scarce regarding caribou ecology. This thesis investigates the contributions and limits of a long-term community-based monitoring program of the human-Rangifer social-ecological system associated with the Porcupine caribou herd.
More precisely, it investigates the case of the Arctic Borderlands Ecological Knowledge Society, a cooperative institution established in 1994 and involving 10 indigenous communities within its community-based environmental monitoring program. Three specific objectives structured the chapters of the thesis: 1) to investigate how community-based monitoring allows a better understanding of the environmental factors influencing caribou body condition; 2) to investigate how community-based monitoring allows a better understanding of the mechanisms linking environmental variables, caribou distribution and the capacity for northern indigenous hunters to satisfy their needs in caribou; 3) to investigate how a community-based monitoring program contributes to build social capital among its participants, and favours the use of local indigenous knowledge within environmental management processes. The first chapter of the thesis (objective 1) is based on 11 years of recording of indigenous observations and shows that both spring and fall caribou body condition improved from 2000 to 2008, despite a continuous increase of the Porcupine caribou population. Our analysis revealed that spring and fall caribou body conditions were mostly influenced by weather on the winter and spring ranges, in particular by snow conditions and spring temperatures. We found that the amelioration of snow and temperature conditions from 2000 to 2010 likely contributed to the caribou population increase during the same period. The second chapter of the thesis (objective 2) focused on the climatic factors influencing the capacity of indigenous hunters to satisfy their needs in caribou within the studied human-Rangifer social-ecological system. It underscores the strong influence of snow conditions and temperature on hunting activities and the capacity of hunters to satisfy their needs in caribou.
This chapter also demonstrates that from 2000 to 2008, hunters increasingly met their needs in caribou despite a decrease in hunting activities, which may have been caused by the caribou population increase. The third chapter of the thesis (objective 3) identified some of the social outcomes of the studied community-based monitoring program. Our results show that in spite of a high level of social capital within the Arctic Borderlands Ecological Knowledge Society, indigenous knowledge collected through the program barely contributed to management decisions. We identified several barriers limiting the contribution of this knowledge but showed that the Arctic Borderlands demonstrated learning and adaptive capacities to overcome these barriers. This thesis advances our understanding of the environmental factors influencing caribou body condition and, more generally, the human-Rangifer social-ecological system. We thus demonstrate that indigenous community-based monitoring can improve our understanding of arctic social-ecosystems. This thesis also shows that a community-based approach can produce social outcomes that go beyond the primary benefits of data collection. Finally, this study shows how environmental community-based monitoring bridges indigenous and scientific knowledge and fosters communication between people who need to meet and innovate to manage sustainably the resources on which they depend.