StFX’s Dr. Peter Kikkert, the Irving Shipbuilding Chair in Arctic Policy at the Brian Mulroney Institute of Government, has received a $100,000 grant to explore how to improve community-based search and rescue (SAR) and emergency response capabilities in the Kitikmeot region of Nunavut.

Dr. Kikkert, who teaches in StFX’s Public Policy and Government Program and in the History Department, received the highly competitive Early Career Faculty Grant from the Marine Environmental Observation Prediction and Response Network (MEOPAR).

With maritime activity increasing throughout the waters of the Canadian Arctic—everything from local small craft carrying hunters and fishers, to cruise ships, vessels supporting resource development, and pleasure craft—effective community-based SAR and emergency response capabilities have never been more essential, Dr. Kikkert says.

“A community approach is crucial in the North where the population is dispersed over vast distances and federal response capabilities are limited,” he says. “In the Kitikmeot communities of Gjoa Haven, Taloyoak, Cambridge Bay, and Kugluktuk, search and rescue and emergency response involves a complex web of governmental organizations, community groups and individuals.”

“The number of groups, organizations and individuals involved in community-based search and rescue and emergency response raises important questions about their abilities to coordinate efforts and leverage training, skills, abilities and equipment,” he says.

Dr. Kikkert says he is absolutely thrilled to have this opportunity. Carrying out research in the North can be very expensive and this work would not be possible without the grant, he says.

“It’s absolutely essential to do this research, to be in the community, listening to and learning from the actual practitioners on the ground. This grant has opened that door, providing for travel, the hiring of community research associates and translators, honorarium for participants, and other workshop costs.”

The amount of funding also means Dr. Kikkert will be able to take two StFX undergraduate student research assistants with him to the North each year of the project.

This year, third year political science student Marcus Cuomo and third year aquatic resources student Brenna Martell will accompany Dr. Kikkert to Nunavut in August for about a month to complete the community portion of the project.

The project will begin with capacity-mapping workshops held in the communities, which will bring organizations together to determine assets and resources available to a community, identify untapped or unrecognized resources and register collective and individual capacities, ranging from who is involved in SAR and emergency response, to the existence of defined response procedures, first-aid skills, equipment, infrastructure, and completed training.

“Effective capacity-mapping takes a potential-oriented approach, highlighting a community’s strengths, and allows for future efforts to be built on those strengths.”

This horizontal capacity-mapping will then be used to facilitate capability-based planning workshops, he says, which will determine whether a community has the assets it requires to respond to the wide array of emergencies it might face.

To facilitate these workshops, Dr. Kikkert will work with community research associates as well as StFX undergraduates Ms. Martell and Mr. Cuomo. Academic collaborators include Dr. Whitney Lackenbauer, Tier 1 Canada Research Chair in the Study of the Canadian North at Trent University and Honorary Lieutenant-Colonel of 1st Canadian Ranger Patrol Group; Leah Beveridge (MMM), a graduate of StFX, now a PhD candidate in the Interdisciplinary PhD Program in the Faculty of Graduate Studies at Dalhousie University; and Dr. Adam Lajeunesse, Irving Shipbuilding Chair in Canadian Arctic Marine Security at StFX.

“Dr. Lackenbauer and I spent much of April in the communities introducing the project, meeting with the different groups involved in SAR and emergency response,” noted Dr. Kikkert.

“It is incredible how engaged and involved many of these community members are in these efforts. We met individuals who are Canadian Rangers, in the Coast Guard Auxiliary, are part of CASARA, and members of their community search and rescue organizations. They volunteer tremendous amounts of time preparing for situations where they might have to save the lives of community members, but also tourists and scientists and other southerners travelling on the land, water, and ice. They are incredibly dedicated and skilled, and they have a strong desire to improve their individual and group capabilities, to train more, and to coordinate more effectively. We hope that this project will contribute to these efforts by assessing existing capacity, defining best practices, streamlining and improving training, resources, equipment, and identifying key areas for further capacity-building.”

Dr. Kikkert has extensive experience working in and studying the North. He not only focused his graduate studies on Arctic policy issues, he lived in the North for a couple of years, teaching at Aurora College, and has been out on the land with Elders and community members in Nunavut, Yukon, and the NWT.

In fact, life has come full circle: Dr. Kikkert made his first trip to the North as an undergraduate research student assistant with former professor, and now collaborator, Dr. Lackenbauer. Now, Dr. Kikkert is taking undergraduate students of his own there.

“I really hope to create an interest at StFX in the North, in Arctic studies, and in the study of community resiliency more generally,” he says.

Ultimately, Dr. Kikkert says he and his colleagues anticipate that improvements to local capability will heighten the effectiveness and efficiency of SAR and emergency response practices in Arctic communities, and, most importantly, contribute to community resilience, improve response times, and save lives. By extension, he says improvements to SAR and emergency response capabilities will help communities mitigate the impacts of climate change and increasing human activity in the Arctic.