The Northern Voice: Listening to Indigenous and Northern Perspectives on Management of Data in Canada

Authors: Julie E Friddell, Dana Church, Ellsworth F LeDrew, Garret Reid, Gabrielle Alix

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In recent years, collaborations within the Arctic research data community in Canada have been expanding to ensure effective engagement with all stakeholders, increasingly including Indigenous Canadians and others living in Canada’s northern communities. The Canadian Cryospheric Information Network at the University of Waterloo has been a part of this expansion, through activities to make data and information more available to northern and Indigenous people and to help coordinate the polar data community in Canada. Specific activities have included improvement of the Polar Data Catalogue Lite online data search application to address stated requests from northern users and co-hosting national and international polar data management meetings in Canada in 2015. Future plans include more effective partnerships in which we work with and listen to northern and Indigenous Canadians to better understand their requirements for data management services and expertise, with the ultimate goal of providing data and information that meets their needs and enables and supports their individual data management goals.


Since the mid-1990s, the Canadian Cryospheric Information Network (CCIN, has provided data repository and online access services to Canadian institutions and initiatives with responsibility for or connections to polar research and monitoring data. With the establishment of the Polar Data Catalogue (PDC, at CCIN in the mid-2000s, collaborations have expanded to provide our data management services to numerous Arctic and Antarctic programs within Canada and internationally. The primary goal of CCIN and PDC is to facilitate access to polar data and information now and for years into the future to a range of stakeholders, including people living in northern communities, Canadian and international decision makers, other researchers, and the interested public. Maturation of the CCIN/PDC system in recent years has facilitated increasing partnerships with Indigenous and northern Canadians, so that we can understand their data and information needs and improve the service and resources that we provide.

During the last three years, the CCIN/PDC has had the privilege of forming relationships with a variety of northern individuals, communities, and organizations during development of proposals as well as preparation for the Canadian Polar Data Workshop and the international Polar Data Forum II in 2015. In addition, we have been working with several Canadian and international polar data portals to establish automatic interoperability of our data systems, to facilitate sharing of data and information with northern people (Friddell et al., 2014). We are pleased to include numerous organizations among our partners and look forward to new opportunities to collaborate with these and other northern groups (such as Canada’s Inuit Research Advisors) to meet the data management and project information needs of Canada’s northern peoples.

Working with Northern and Indigenous Partners in Canada to Make Data and Information More Accessible

Northern and Indigenous Canadians, one of our primary target audiences, have vast data and information resources, in the form of Traditional and Local Knowledge (TLK), that need to be preserved and shared. At the same time, many researchers from southern Canada study natural, social, and health sciences in northern Canada and collect data and information which are extremely useful to people living in northern Canada. Many of our partners in northern communities have expressed the desire to know more about the variety of research taking place near their community, data and information from which is often difficult to find or access. It is the goal of CCIN/PDC and numerous other groups to better serve the people in Canada’s northern communities by making critical data and information more accessible and providing it in the ways that they need it. This is particularly important as northern communities experience environmental and social change.

Increasingly, people are working together to define research projects which answer both academic and societal questions and contribute to understanding community-based needs, changes, and challenges, to the benefit of everyone involved. These relationships and the input gained from traditional and local experience are crucial to provision of data and information for the support of northern decision making at different levels. A primary knowledge gap in the polar data management community is understanding the capacity, interest, and concerns of northern and Aboriginal people in preserving TLK. This information is precious but can be sensitive, thus northern people want to preserve it, with appropriate protections, in repositories as close to home as possible. For data management systems to meet the needs of northern data and knowledge producers and to preserve northern data treasures for future generations, the concerns, requirements, and capabilities of all partners must be understood.

In 2015, our partnership with Inuit Qaujisarvingat (IQ) led to evaluation of the PDC Lite online data search application ( with regard to use by northerners. Based on feedback from partners at IQ and additional individual users, we updated the PDC Lite Search to improve the interface design, graphics, and text descriptions, including addition of local names and highlighting the four Inuit land claim regions in northern Canada. This Lite version of the PDC Search was originally developed in direct response to feedback and requests from stakeholders and users in Canada’s north for whom our full-featured PDC Search tool was slow and who requested a more location-based interface for searching for data. The PDC Lite Search tool is optimized for use in Internet-limited locations, such as many communities in northern Canada, and has been adapted to search for projects or information around a specific community. These improvements to the PDC are beneficial to more than just our northern partners and users, thus we are appreciative of the effort and time that the evaluators put into these activities.

Coordination and Advancement of Polar Data Management in Canada and Internationally

Also in 2015, CCIN/PDC, in collaboration with numerous partners, co-led two major data management meetings in Canada, the Canadian Polar Data Workshop (CPD Workshop, attended by 50 participants in Ottawa in May 2015) and the international Polar Data Forum II (PDF II, attended 
by over 110 participants from 18 countries in Waterloo, Ontario in October 2015). These meetings laid the groundwork for increased progress in managing polar data, both at the Canadian and international scales, and in collaborating with northern and Indigenous partners.

The aim of the CPD Workshop was to coordinate the growing polar data community in Canada and to develop and implement best practices and sustainability in data stewardship, including enabling Indigenous stewardship of their own data resources, particularly Traditional and Local Knowledge. Relevant outcomes of the Workshop included explicit acknowledgement that TLK and some other northern and Indigenous data and information will need to be exempted from expectations of open data sharing, due to confidentiality or other concerns of sensitivity. Also, the Indigenous and northern participants in the Workshop as well as the national online pre-Workshop consultation indicated their interest in participating fully in the coordination exercise, and other participants acknowledged that relationships should be strengthened through more extensive collaboration with northern and Indigenous people and communities. The success of this ongoing national initiative will depend on improving “human interoperability,” especially regarding communication and collaboration related to participation and leadership by northern and Indigenous people in managing Canada’s polar data. 
Part of the process will involve ensuring Indigenous and northern Canadians are included and made to feel welcome, which can be facilitated by attendance at meetings through provision of funding support for travel as well as holding meetings in northern Canadian communities.

Polar Data Forum II: International Collaboration for Advancing Polar Data Access and Preservation ( also aimed to build collaborations and systems for long-term preservation and access to data and information from the Arctic and Antarctic. This major international conference was attended by more than 110 data managers, researchers, students and early career researchers, Indigenous and northern people, policy and funding agency representatives, and others from 18 countries. Funding was secured to bring six people from Indigenous and northern communities and organizations to the Forum, to ensure in-person participation and input on northern and Indigenous perspectives. Indigenous participation helps build capacity for northern communities to engage in and benefit from research and facilitates engagement of Indigenous and northern youth with the growing field of information science and data management.

The University of Waterloo Aboriginal Student Association opened the Forum with songs and drums, and an Aboriginal Evening event included a local women’s drum circle, a smudging ceremony, and locally sourced Indigenous foods. Among other key outcomes, participants recommended that incorporation of Arctic Indigenous perspectives is critical to the success of international polar data management. This may be accomplished through support for Indigenous participation in polar data activities, including increasing capacity for self-management of Inuit data and TLK.

Next Steps

Our plans for enhancing future collaborations include increasing partnerships with northern and Indigenous organizations and people in Canada to make the PDC more useful to northerners and to meet their data management needs. Specific activities include building systems to manage project tracking and licensing in northern communities, adding language support for Inuktitut to the online PDC tools, writing articles and news items about the PDC and our services, and increasing use of the CCIN/PDC websites and social media accounts to enhance outreach and education about northern Canada to students and the public and to reach northern Canadians who seek data and information related to their communities. Additional activities include expansion of metadata sharing with northern organizations; listening to our northern and Indigenous partners to understand their needs related to data management; providing expertise and infrastructure, as needed; and using surveys and other methods to receive feedback on our websites and services, including our Facebook and Twitter sites.

We value the input of our northern partners and look forward to further feedback to ensure we are addressing northern needs.


The authors would like to thank P. Pulsifer for his many contributions to our engagement efforts, including to the CPD Workshop and PDF II; S. Nickels and IQ for advice and guidance; and the following northern and Indigenous organizations for their collaboration: Inuit Qaujisarvingat: Inuit Knowledge Centre of Inuit Tapiriit Kanatami, Nunavut Tunngavik Incorporated, the Inuvialuit Joint Secretariat, the Inuvialuit Regional Corporation, Aurora College and Research Institute, Kativik Regional Government, the Nunavut Research Institute, the Nunatsiavut Government, Makivik Corporation, the National Inuit Youth Council, Pauktuutit Inuit Women of Canada, the Inuit Circumpolar Council, and the Nasivvik Centre for Inuit Health and Changing Environments.

Competing Interests

The authors declare that they have no competing interests.


Friddell, J., E. LeDrew, and W. Vincent, The Polar Data Catalogue: Best Practices for Sharing and Archiving Canada’s Polar Data, CODATA Data Science Journal 13, PDA1-PDA7, 2014.