Bringing science and northern communities together to understand climate change

Mandy Bayha and Joanne Speakman are helping bring the scientific world and northern communities together by working with NASA's Arctic-Boreal Vulnerability Experiment (ABoVE) project.

Two women are helping bridge gap between traditional knowledge and Western science

Joanne Speakman and Mandy Bayha with the Deline self government flag, outside the conference centre in La Jolla, Calif. (Courtesy Joanne Speakman)

Mandy Bayha and Joanne Speakman are helping bring the scientific world and northern communities together.

The pair from Deline, N.W.T., are straddling both worlds as they work with NASA's Arctic-Boreal Vulnerability Experiment (ABoVE).  

The 10-year study (now in its fourth year) is looking at the effect of climate change on the boreal forest and the people who are connected to it.  

Bayha and Speakman speak Slavey and have a background in environmental science.

They are helping bridge the gap between science and traditional knowledge to make sure their community benefits from scientific research into climate change.

From left: NASA pilot Terry Luallen, Mandy Bayha, NASA ABoVE Chief Support Scientist Peter Griffith, Joanne Speakman and NASA pilot Troy Asher. (Courtesy Joanne Speakman)

The pair was recently in San Diego, Calif., to give a presentation on the link between their community and the boreal landscape.

Respect, trust and long-lasting, meaningful relationships between scientists and local communities are extremely important, Bayha said.

"The environment is so much more than just our livelihood of hunting and fishing. There is so much connection there between us and the land," Bayha said.

"To have other people appreciate and have a vested interest in protecting the environment, that was our common ground coming together.

"The desire for each of these researchers to reach out to the local communities is really genuine."

Researchers Paul Siqueira (left) and Bruce Chapman (yellow jacket) with Mandy Bayha and Joanne Speakman, in La Jolla, Calif. (Courtesy Joanne Speakman)

Bridging two worlds

Speakman said embracing both traditional knowledge and Western science is the best way to get everyone on board when it comes to tackling climate change.

"The effects of climate change are happening so quickly up here in the North, it's critical that we work together to create ways to adapt to the changes that are happening," she said.

"That way we have a better chance of addressing climate change."

As part of their work, Bayha and Speakman accompanied a flight crew flying over areas of the North with remote sensing equipment.

"We got to basically learn about the remote sensing technology, how it is used to study climate change, and then we got to do some ground validation calibration over one of the areas that was scanned by the radar," Bayha said.

They did a report on their experience and were invited to do another presentation in Yellowknife in March.

"We must have done a pretty good job because we were invited down to San Diego (to present at a NASA conference)."

Joanne Speakman and Mandy Bayha right after giving their presentation at a NASA conference in La Jolla, Calif. (Courtesy Joanne Speakman)


For Speakman, the research has given her a chance to return to her roots.

"It was an incredible opportunity to reconnect with my culture," she said. "I moved away from Deline when I was 10 years old so, unfortunately, along the way I did lose some of my language and it is something that I'm really working hard to reconnect with.

"To have this opportunity to talk about my past and my family back home, it was a really amazing way to reconnect myself to the culture. And I feel like I'm one of many people in the North trying to do the same."

Now Speakman and Bayha intend to travel around the Sahtu region to help create an understanding of how traditional knowledge and science can work together. They hope to get elders and land users to actively engage in the research.

Speakman, who is currently a summer student doing conservation plannings, said the collaboration with NASA goes much farther than the study itself.

"It speaks to a broader issue with the history of colonialism in Canada," she said. "Partnerships like this are exciting and a positive new way forward."

with files from Lawrence Nayally