Tracking Changes in Wildlife Health - Traditional Knowledge and Aboriginal Peoples

Research Collaboration with Treaty 8 First Nations of Alberta

Funded by Alberta Innovates, Alberta Prion Research Institute, Genome Canada (Ge3LS)

The health of wildlife and the health of Aboriginal peoples are strongly interconnected. Many Aboriginal peoples depend on deer, elk, moose and caribou for food and as part of their livelihood and culture. For this reason, we know that Wildlife diseases including CWD can negatively affect traditional diets and also the health and wellbeing of Aboriginal communities. However, Aboriginal harvesters are very knowledgeable (i.e. hold traditional knowledge) and are willing to participate in wildlife monitoring to ensure the long term health of both the animals and their communities. Monitoring of wildlife health is not a new idea to many harvesters but is part of their traditional way of life. For generations they have systematically tracked such indicators as animal condition (e.g., skinny/fat liver) to ensure a healthy diet. Although different methods and language are often used, traditional monitoring systems are similar to those used by scientists. Our research will involve working closely with First Nations organizations, communities and harvesters to understand more about traditional systems of monitoring and how they might be important to addressing the spread and effects of CWD. With three years of research funding, we hope to document oral histories about ups and downs (variation) in the health, distribution and population of moose, deer, elk and caribou in four communities. We also want to create resources for Aboriginal communities who are faced with the threat of CWD; a community-based monitoring toolbox will help harvesters and land users document their observations so that they can be better understood and used by their communities (i.e., by other harvesters) as well as other organizations involved in studying CWD. 

Previous research has demonstrated how the traditional methods used by Aboriginal peoples to track ecological change (including wildlife health) are synergistic with scientific approaches to ecosystem surveillance. Building on data collected with Aboriginal communities in Alberta and the Northwest Territories, the research team will collaborate with First Nations partners to develop a system of community-based monitoring that has strong links to community level decision-making (i.e., about harvesting and consumption) and can render data that is useful for managing the spread and effects of CWD in western Canada. Over a three year period, diachronic data (i.e., oral histories) about variation in the health, distribution and population of moose, deer, elk and caribou will be documented. The development and implementation of a community-based monitoring toolbox will enable harvesters to document observations of change during contemporary harvesting and land use activities. We anticipate that the reearch will produce knowledge that serves the needs of the four pilot communities and Aboriginal organizations seeking a greater role in wildlife management as well as render data relevant to, or synergistic with, other kinds of CWD surveillance in Alberta.