Sanikiluaq wins $5.5M to lay groundwork for protected area on Belcher Islands

The funding is to move forward the 'Qikiqtait' project that aims to create a 33,000-square-kilometres conservation area surrounding the archipelago where Arctic eider ducks make their home.

Canadian Nature Challenge Fund grant will build multi-purpose research facility in southeast Hudson Bay

The film, People of a Feather, by Joel Heath, documented the unique relationship between the people of Sanikiluaq and the eider ducks who visit the islands each winter.

A project to expand community-driven science and lay the groundwork for a protected conservation area on the Belcher Islands has won $5.5 million from the Canadian Nature Challenge Fund. 

The grant will fund a multi-purpose research facility and community-driven stewardship and monitoring program that would employ local Inuit and Cree, according to a news release. It is the latest step towards establishing "Qikiqtait" —  a community-driven protected area covering 33,000 square kilometres. 

The Belcher Islands archipelago, known as Sanikiluaq in Inuktitut, is an important habitat for the Arctic eider duck, the animal that produces the incredibly insulative eider down. People who live on the islands have relied on the animals for survival for generations by harvesting their eggs and down. 

"We've been working on this for a long time and creating a protected area for the Belcher Islands will have a big impact for our community, hunters and youth. These islands are a special place in the heart of Hudson Bay, and we islanders do things different," said Lucassie Arragutainaq, of the Sanikiluaq Hunters and Trappers Association. 

"This project will be a unique made-in-Sanikiluaq approach to protecting the region."

A map showing the location of the Nunavut hamlet of Sanikiluaq, on the Belcher Islands in Hudson Bay. (Google)

The Qikiqtait project is co-led by Arragutainaq and Joel Heath, co-founder of the Arctic Eider Society who created the critically-acclaimed documentary People of a Feather, which explores the relationship between Sanikilimiut and the eider duck.  

Partners in this project include the Municipality of Sanikiluaq, the Sanikiluaq Hunters and Trappers Association, the Arctic Eider Society and the Qikiqtani Inuit Association.