Beaufort Delta communities see new research opportunities thanks to COVID-19 restrictions

Residents of N.W.T.'s Fort McPherson, Aklavik, Tsiigehtchic and Inuvik were hired to conduct surveys about energy use because southern students couldn't travel north.

Community researchers hired to conduct surveys normally done by master's students

Stephanie Clark and Greg Poelzer in May 2019. Clark is one of the community researchers who will help conduct surveys in Tsiigehtchic, N.W.T. (Submitted by Stephanie Clark)

Researchers at the University of Saskatchewan are teaming up with people in the Beaufort Delta region of the N.W.T., on a survey about energy use.

It's part of a project called CASES, Community Appropriate Sustainable Energy Security Partnership, an international research initiative which will conduct surveys in different northern communities about energy.

The goal of the project, according to the university's website, is to reimagine energy security in northern and Indigenous communities "by co-creating and brokering the knowledge, understanding, and capacity to design, implement and manage renewable energy systems."

In the Beaufort Delta, surveys will be done in Fort McPherson, Aklavik, Tsiigehtchic and Inuvik.

Greg Poelzer, a co-director of the project, says their original plan was to send graduate students to the Beaufort Delta to work with community members.

But COVID-19 travel restrictions changed that plan.

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From right to left, CASES co-director Greg Poelzer, Linda Todd with the Arctic Energy Alliance, and CASES co-director Bram Noble in Yellowknife before heading to the communities for some prep work for the surveys. (Submitted by University of Saskatchewan)

Poelzer said they discussed the decision with the Gwich'in Tribal Council, and ultimately hired residents in the four communities to conduct the surveys.

He said this change will actually benefit the project in the long run, by helping build long-term capacity with community researchers.

"In some ways, what looked like was going to be a challenge has turned out to be a great strength," he said.

'It will help us protect our way of life'

Stephanie Clark will be surveying people in Tsiigehtchic about energy use and energy issues.

Clark said the questions that she asks are fairly straightforward but can have very important impacts.

"I strongly believe that people should participate in these surveys because it will help us preserve our land and develop reliable energy supplies," she said.

"It will help us protect our way of life."

Poelzer said they're also doing surveys in northern Saskatchewan and Manitoba, and well as in Alaska, Norway and Sweden, in a total of 17 communities.

"We're hoping that we'll get a sense across our four countries how different energy systems work in northern communities."

With files from Wanda McLeod