'Two-Eyed Seeing' of Cross-Cultural Research Camps

Climate change is expected to impact the Northwest Territories (NWT) harder than other regions in Canada, threatening the health, safety, and food security of Indigenous communities in the North such as the Sahtú, who have turned to community-based traditional knowledge and science-based research and discussions as the basis for wise decision-making regarding what to do about climate change. The Sahtú Region is an area of 280,238 square kilometres—about the size of Ecuador and arguably the most ecologically diverse landscape in North America. There are five communities of the Sahtú region: Délı̨nę, K’áhbamı̨túé (Colville Lake), Rádelı̨hkǫ́ (Fort Good Hope), Tulita (Tulít’a), and Tɬegó̜hɬı̨ (Norman Wells). The Sahtú population totals 2,500, approximately 1,800 or 70 percent of whom are Dene and Métis. The Sahtu Dene and Métis are resilient peoples, and have successfully adapted to significant environmental, cultural, and socio-economic changes throughout their history. Although climate change poses a new and significant challenge – since 2018, community-based traditional knowledge and science-based research and discussions are being undertaken in the form of cross-cultural, on-the-land camps that create opportunities for learning and sharing across cultures, generations, and knowledge systems. This case study presents how this strategy has been successful in creating safe spaces for learning about the changes that everyone is seeing on the land in the face of climate change.

Understanding and Assessing Impacts

Climate change will hit the Northwest Territories (NWT) harder than most places in Canada. The Northern NWT has warmed more quickly than the rest of North America and the global average over the past 50 years, and scientists predict that the mean temperature will rise by between 4 and 8 degrees by the 2050s. The changing climate threatens the health, safety, and food security of Indigenous communities such as the Sahtú. Any research in the Sahtu should follow both community-identified research priorities and support community leadership of and participation within that research. The principle that any research should be community-led is what initiated the Nę K’ǝ Dene Ts’ı̨lı̨ (Living on the Land) Forum, a name which emphasizes and articulates the integral link between land stewardship and Dene and Métis identity and wellness.

The Sahtú Renewable Resources Board is one of three co-management boards created by the Sahtú land claim agreement to manage the land wisely. The Board, along with other partners, has used the Nę K’ǝ Dene Ts’ı̨lı̨ Forum to help articulate community and regional research priorities as well as local and regional research governance. Linked to the Forum is the actual on-the-land aspect, which the Sahtú Renewable Resources Board has coined Cross Cultural Research Camps. They follow a similar format to the Forum but are done on the land. The model aims to provide interactive experiences from on-the-land practices and dialogue with traditional knowledge holders combined with science-based research and monitoring techniques and methods. This “two-eyed seeing,” as it is sometimes called, brings a lot more significance and understanding to the discussions and decisions regarding land stewardship, climate change, and the connections the communities have to these areas.

Identifying Actions

The Cross Cultural Research Camps discussed in the above section consist of participants from multiple generations, multiple cultural backgrounds, and different academic and knowledge-system backgrounds. This integration ensures culturally appropriate and holistic approaches that build environmental leadership; honour, foster, and mobilize Indigenous knowledge; support and involve family units including youth; and create opportunities to support Dene and Métis wellness, healing, land stewardship, and career development.

The overarching goal of the camps is to create an environment where experiential, on-the-land learning helps to facilitate co-production of knowledge that is grounded in the traditional knowledge and experiences of community members. Community members, researchers, and partners use the time on the land to better integrate current and planned research initiatives, identify research and capacity needs, and support new and innovative research to address these needs in the Sahtú. The collaborative nature of the camp’s activities is designed to add value to the research and to encourage open discussion and knowledge sharing between community members and researchers.

The Sahtú Renewable Resources Board has been holding these types of camps for nearly a decade and continues to learn how to improve them every time to allow for greater learning by participants, greater self determination by the Sahtú communities and simply more effective and efficient ways to share, communicate, live, and work together when out on the land.


Several examples of Cross Cultural Camps that have been hosted exist – including: 1) The Dene Ts’ıl̨ı̨School Experience: Toward a Sahtú Youth Network; 2) Water Knowledge Camps: Building Capacity for Cross-Cultural Water Knowledge, Research, and Environmental Monitoring; and 3) Tracking Change Project. Each of these camps has enhanced the opportunity to learn about the land and connect with the traditional culture. The focus here will be on The Dene Ts’ıl̨ı̨School Experience: Toward a Sahtú Youth Network. To read about the other camp experiences and outcomes. The link to the full case study is provided in the Resources section (below).

The Dene Ts’ıl̨ı̨School Experience: Toward a Sahtú Youth Network Three distinct intentions emerged through this dialogue: to 1) develop community capacity by involving local Ɂehdzo Got’ı̨nę (Renewable Resources Council) in the development and implementation of the Dene Ts’ı̨lı School; 2) strengthen the connections that youth have with their traditional culture; and 3) help to foster leadership skills among youth.

The camps were held at Dǝocha (Bennett Field) during 2017-2018. The first workshop gave rise to development of the cross-cultural Dechı̨ta Nezǫ Gots’udı́ (Living Well on the Land) approach to safety planning. The second workshop provided an opportunity to assess implementation of the plan’s first iteration and expanded the plan to include cultural and spiritual safety components.

In addition to the pre-camp planning workshops, daily leadership meetings provided time for the instructor team to discuss learnings from the previous day and refine the approach and plan for the coming day’s learning activities. Learning was necessary for both non-Indigenous resource people and elders/mentors. Non-Indigenous resource people are challenged to understand, respect and support spaces for learning that are tailored for Dene and Métis youth learning needs. Dene/Métis elders and mentors have a similar challenge coming from another direction, in that they seek to learn about the needs of young people who are at home in town and in structured school contexts, but are often unfamiliar with traditional ways of learning on the land.

Outcomes and Monitoring Progress

The first major lesson that was learned and has since been incorporated into every camp was the need for wellness supports in on-the-land programs, especially those that include or target youth. Many Sahtú youth are struggling with addictions, intergenerational impacts of residential school and colonialism, and related experiences of trauma or stress. People taking leadership responsibility at camps for youth in the Sahtú need to be trained in wellness skills to appropriately address issues that are sure to come up. The second major lesson is not to assume that everyone knows how to spend time on the land safely. Our first camp gave rise to development of the cross-cultural Dechı̨ta Nezǫ Gots’udı́/Living Well on the Land approach to safety planning, which includes cultural and spiritual safety components. Every camp since has been an opportunity to assess the implementation of the plan and add in new information and learnings that come out of the camp. A third lesson from these camps was the need to create a conducive learning environment, with some structured learning, but also considerable time for less structured Dene ts’ı̨lı̨ activities as well such as fishing, harvesting, berry picking, sewing, and more.

One of the greatest benefits of these camps is the positive and supportive relationships established. They have led to much better relationships between researchers and community members as both begin to see how the others think and what is important to them and why. These relationships are what the Sahtú Renewable Resources Board feels will build up the region, because it is by drawing on traditional knowledge and science that the communities will be able to build adaptive strategies for climate change, make decisions that support their Dene ts’ıl̨ı̨, and ensure that the communities have the support they need to stay resilient in the face of climate change.

Next Steps

The next steps are to continue creating opportunities for learning and sharing across cultures, generations, and knowledge systems – specifically in relation to the land-based camps that have proven successful in learning about and adapting to the changes on the land as a result of climate change. Known challenges (e.g., the high cost of bringing people onto the land; designing schedules that keep all participants engaged; and keeping people feeling safe and supported) will continue to be addressed through enhancements to the programs over time.


Link to Case Study 

Originally published by the Canadian Institute for Climate Choices

Additional Resources:

If you would like to learn more about Indigenous peoples experiences and stories in a changing climate, visit the Indigenous Climate Hub. You can also find on the platform a number of climate change resources tools for Indigenous peoples to monitor and adapt to the ever-changing climate.

Be part of the Hub to exchange knowledge and experiences with other Indigenous climate change leaders working on similar issues, by signing-up here: https://indigenousclimatehub.ca/members-network/