Sunday December 11, 2016

Video: Labrador Inuit develop an app to track changes in the land

Ossie Michelin checks out eNuk, an app made by -and for- Labrador Inuit to share information about the changing land. 0:51

Listen 7:39

For generations, the Labrador Inuit have relied on traditional knowledge to understand the intricacies of their landscape and seascape: Which ice is safe, where animals congregate, and so on.

But climate change is, well, changing all that.

And in an area where a misstep can cost a life, community members and researchers have come together to make eNuk, a smartphone and tablet app that allows people to share pictures and information about the land.

"The ocean is definitely rising. The winters are shorter, the spring comes sooner, the freeze up comes later, the snow cover is not the same. A lot of things have changed in the last twenty years really," says Charlotte Wolfrey, an Inuit leader in Rigolet, Labrador.

The eNuk app

The eNuk app.

Charlotte is speaking to Ossie Michelin, an Inuit freelance journalist from Labrador, whose documentary about the app is featured on Spark.

It was Charlotte's idea to make an app, and she recruited Ashlee Cunsolo, who is the Director of the Labrador Institute of Memorial University. They knew that people had been taking pictures of changing conditions, but they wanted a central way to coordinate them, especially because there is no cellular data service in many of the areas throughout Nunatsiavut, an area in northern Labrador governed by the Inuit.

The eNuk app allows people to take a photograph, record comments, and drop a geo-location pin anywhere. Once they return to an area with data access, that information is automatically uploaded to a central server, and is shared with everyone else who has the app.

Testing equipment

Testing out different equipment in -20 to -30 degree weather in English River. iPhone batteries don't last long in this weather!

More broadly, the app helps the community -- and researchers understand the impacts of climate change in real time.

Besides monitoring snow and ice conditions, the app provides valuable insights into food security, says Michele Wood. She works with the Nunatsiavut Department of Health and Social Development.

"On the food security side it's really interesting because it helps us to better understand what people are actually harvesting at different times of the year."

The researchers and the community developed the app collaboratively over the course of three years, a cooperation that has really made it useful for everyone.

ENuk app in use

Charlie Flowers of Rigolet, Labrador using the eNuk app.

"The idea of bringing in the traditional knowledge, the Indigenous knowledge, the culture, the experience and stuff into the app, it's so informative," says Daniel Gillis, an assistant professor and statistician in the school of computer science at the University of Guelph. He helped build the app.

If "we didn't actually get to experience it, get to understand the community, or try to understand the community and try to work with the community, the app wouldn't be what it could be. We would have missed out on a lot of things."