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Arctic minor alum travels to Sanikiluaq, Nunavut

Photo credit: Natasha Haycock-Chavez

June 4, 2021

During her studies at University of St. John’s, Natasha Haycock-Chavez (2016) worked with former UW Fulbright Canada Arctic Chair Joel Heath in Sanikiluaq, Nunavut.


After graduating from UW in the spring of 2016 with a BA in Economics and minor in Arctic Studies, I kept in contact with Joel Heath, who at the time was UW’s Fulbright Canada Visiting Research Chair in Arctic Studies. Directly after graduating, I worked in Alaska then traveled and volunteered through Patagonia on the Chilean side, but I could not stop thinking about Joel Heath’s work in Nunavut.

After two years of working and traveling, Joel Heath invited me to the community of Sanikiluaq in Nunavut, to work as a master’s student as the community planned and created a protected area, known as Qikiqtait. In fall of 2018, I moved to St. John’s, Newfoundland, and began my studies at University of St. John’s under the supervision of Rodolphe Devillers and with the direct support from Joel Heath.

The key objective of my research was to produce data that would contribute to the planning and implementation of Qikiqtait Protected Area. Historically, protected areas in Canada excluded local and Indigenous involvement, and therefore many have argued that protected areas perpetuated colonialism. Qikiqtait was planned to be one of 15 federally legislated protected areas that challenged that notion by using a bottom-up approach and integrating community values and knowledge from the beginning. Qikiqtait was community-lead and collaboratively planned to protect the region that Sanikiluaq had been a part of for centuries.

I was invited to visit the community in spring of 2019, to attend the first Protected Area planning meeting that was open to non-residents. While in Sanikiluaq, I created research questions that reflected the community’s research needs based on discussions at the planning meeting. During the meeting, the community identified specific areas within the protected area boundary that represented upheld importance, such as beluga breeding grounds or areas where they gathered mussels and urchins. Based on these Priority Areas for Conservation, I framed my research to analyze how a community-based approach differs from the approach more typically used by conservation organizations. Using data from the community, as well as data from World Wildlife Fund, Canada, I conducted a spatial analysis that used both qualitative and quantitative methods to understand how two different frameworks could complement each other.

Working with both Western and Indigenous methodologies was an incredible and introspective experience. There is value in both approaches, and my research concluded that it is imperative to include community knowledge and input in conservation decisions and planning. I finished my degree in April 2021, and I am excited to see what lays ahead. I hope to continue working within this field and I plan to eventually pursue a doctorate.

The Arctic Studies minor is an interdisciplinary offering from the Canadian Studies Center and the School of Oceanography, in collaboration with the University of the Arctic. Students in this minor gain skills relevant to addressing major science and policy issues in the Arctic, and are trained to work with international organizations, national governments, and sub-national organizations towards that end.

For more information about the Arctic Studies minor, please contact