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Sanguatsiniq - Canada


  • Principal investigators: Elspeth Ready, Peter Collings
  • MPI team members: Friederike Hillemann, Alejandro Pérez Velilla
  • Research since: 2011 (Kangiqsujuaq, E. Ready), 1992 (Ulukhaktok, P. Collings)

Site Details

Kangiqsujuaq, Nunavik (pop. 800), and Ulukhaktok, Inuvialuit Settlement Region (pop. 400) are Inuit settlements in the Canadian Arctic. Both are remote and accessible only by airplane. Traditional foods, such as arctic char, caribou, and seal, are an important source of calories and nutrients, and hunting and fishing activities are a central component of Inuit identity. Throughout the Canadian Arctic, poverty and food insecurity are high, as a result of limited employment opportunities and a high cost of living.

The two communities contrast in informative ways with respect to the questions that the Sanguatsiniq project focuses on. Kangiqsujuaq is relatively well-resourced, with funding available for community projects via mining royalties, the land claims corporation, and the government of Quebec. Ulukhaktok, in addition to being smaller, is by comparison under-resourced and has fewer labor opportunities. Kangiqsujuaq has experimented with various programs in the area of mental health; in contrast, Ulukhaktok has less access to funds, program development tends to be driven by regional initiatives, and community members have less experience in program management and development. Consequently, a benefit of our comparative approach is that it contributes to capacity-building in Inuit communities, both through our collaborative research design and through knowledge transfer between communities.

The settlements likewise vary culturally and linguistically. Inuktitut (Eastern Arctic Inuktut) is spoken in the homes of nearly all Kangiqsujuarmiut, but very few Ulukhaktomiut are fluent in Inuinnaqtun (Central Arctic Inuktut), which has been designated as severely endangered. This difference is relevant because considerable research on Indigenous well-being focuses on language as a crucial factor in cultural transmission. The communities also differ in social structure. Ulukhaktok kinship and social organization, for example, has long emphasized relations with age-mates and within-generation kin over lineal ties relative to other Central Arctic Inuit. Kinship in Kangiqsujuaq more resembles Eastern Arctic Inuit, placing greater emphasis on the ilagiit (multigenerational extended familes).

Comparisons between Kangiqsujuaq and Ulukhaktok therefore provide an opportunity to examine how language, community access to government funding, and social structure impact subsistence production, sharing patterns and subsequent food security. Including two communities substantially increases the applied impact of our work, as communities can learn from their differences and from the results of research conducted in each community.

Project summary

Sanguatsiniq is a community-driven research project in the Canadian Arctic, focused on economic change, cultural practices and values, and well-being in two Inuit communities (Kangiqsujuaq and Ulukhaktok). The project name, Sanguatsiniq, refers to moving in a new direction, especially when traveling by dog sled. The concept is also a metaphor for having new ideas, with traveling set in contrast to being “stuck in one place,” which, for Inuit, is associated with stressful experiences. As such, the name both invokes research as a source of new ideas, and speaks, in a positive way, to the themes of the project.

Our work is grounded in local research needs, but also has theoretical relevance well beyond our regional focus. Understanding the mechanisms that connect economic conditions with cultural beliefs and practices, and in turn, culture to well-being, is highly relevant to understanding the possibilities for adaptation, resilience and well-being of populations experiencing social and economic upheaval, including those related to climate change. What processes—economic, social, and psychological— promote stability or change in cultural beliefs and practices? When, and why, is cultural change a stressful process? By focusing on these issues, our research addresses questions that link behavioral ecology, cultural evolution, and evolutionary psychology. We are particularly interested in how risk, uncertainty, and inequality shape trajectories of cultural change and people’s experiences of it.

Recent and ongoing research

Our research over the past three years has focused on eliciting community research needs and priorities via pilot research and extensive community consultations (see Ready and Collings 2021; Collings et al. 2023 for foundational papers). The research question that has emerged from this process is: Why do culturally-salient activities and cultural values promote well-being in Arctic communities? Existing research asserts, but does not explain, a positive relationship between psychological well-being and subsistence-related practices like hunting and food-sharing among Arctic Indigenous peoples. Our current research therefore aims to (1) test the idea that cultural consonance, referring to congruence between a person’s behaviors and culturally-defined models of wellness, is predictive of lower stress for Inuit, and (2) to explore how cultural values are transmitted in our study communities. To do this, in conjunction with local organizations, we are currently developing a five-year, three-phase research program that will integrate both longitudinal observational studies and quasi-experimental methods in the form of community programming.

Our community-based work in Kangiqsujuaq and Ulukhaktok is supported by broader theoretical and methods development efforts. For example, recent theoretical papers have focused on how social network structures influence the spread of cultural adaptations, demonstrating that network structures that balance diverse ties and local clustering promote the spread of new ideas and behaviors (Jones et al. 2021; Larson and Ready 2022; Pisor et al. 2022). Recent methods work has focused on how data collection and aggregation decisions in social network research impact key network measures like reciprocity and betweenness (Ready and Power 2021; Ready et al. 2020). Works in progress include the development of Bayesian models to estimate carbon savings generated by Indigenous food production (with Bret Beheim and Cody Ross), analyses of how socioeconomic status influences Inuit harvesting (led by Friederike Hillemann), and modeling the network structures that emerge from risk-reduction sharing (led by Alejandro Pérez Velilla).

Current department collaborations

Health and well-being in non-market and transitioning economies 
The Culture, Environment and Health Research Group (John Bunce, Caissa Revilla Minaya, and Catalina Ignacia Fernández Hernández)
Pemba research team (Jeffrey Andrews, Ilaria Pretelli)

Climate change adaptation 
MOSAIC (Bret Beheim), STRAND (Cody Ross)
Human Sociality Lab (Anne Pisor, Washington State University)

Food sharing 
MOSAIC (Natalia Fedorova)

Selected Publications

Collings, P., Ready, E., & Medina-Ramírez, O. (forthcoming). An ethnographic model of stress and stress management in two Canadian Inuit communities. Journal of Cross-Cultural Psychology.

Pisor, A., Basurto, X., Douglass, K. G., Mach, K. J., Ready, E., Tylianakis, J. M., Hazel, A., Kline, M. A., Kramer, K., Lansing, S. J., Moritz, M., Smaldino, P., Thorton, T. F., & Jones, J. (2022). Effective climate-change adaptation means supporting community autonomy. Nature Cli-mate Change, 12:213-215.

Ready, E. (2022). Ilagiit, parts of each other: Scale and Inuit social relations. In T. Widlok, & M. Dores Cruz (Eds.), Scale Matters: The Quality of Quantity in Human Social Relationships, 155-178. Transcript Verlag.

Jones, J., Ready, E., & Pisor, A. (2021). Want climate change adaptation? Evolutionary theory can help. American Journal of Human Biology, 33:e23 539.

Larson, C., & Ready, E. (2022). Good advice: Networks, innovation and resilience in book publishing during a digital disruption. New Media & Society, Online First.

Ready, E., & Collings, P. (2021). “All the problems in the community are multi-faceted and related to each other”: Inuit concerns in an era of climate change. American Journal of Human Biology, 33:e23 516.

Ready, E., Habecker, P., Abadie, R., Davila, C., Rivera Villegas, A., Khan, B., & Dombrowski, K. (2020). Comparing social network structures generated through sociometric and ethnogra-phic methods. Field Methods, 32(4):416-432.

Ready, E., & Power, E. A. (2021). Measuring reciprocity: Double-sampling, concordance and network construction. Network Science, 9:387-402.

Ready, E., & Price, M. (2021). Human behavioral ecology and niche construction. Evolution-ary Anthropology, 30:71–83.

Power, E.A. and Ready, E. 2019. Cooperation beyond consanguinity: post-marital residence, delineations of kin, and social support among South Indian Tamils. Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society B.

Ready, E. 2019. Why subsistence matters. Hunter-Gatherer Research 3 (4): 635–649.

Koster, J., McElreath, R. et al. 2019. The life history of human foraging: Cross-cultural and individual variation. bioRxiv.

Ready, E. 2018. Who, being loved, is poor? Poverty, marriage, and changing family structures in the Canadian Arctic. Human Organization 77 (2): 122–134.

Bliege Bird, R., Ready, E., and Power, E.A., 2018. The social significance of subtle signals. Nature Human Behaviour 2 (2): 1–6.

Power, E. and Ready, E. 2018. Building bigness: Reputation, prominence, and social capital in rural South India. American Anthropologist 120 (3): 444–459.

Ready, E. 2018. Sharing-based social capital associated with harvest production and wealth in the Canadian Arctic. PLoS ONE 13 (3): e1093759.

Ready, E. and Collings, P. 2018. Rethinking "Big problems" in Arctic health. Anthropology News 59 (1): e71-e76.

Ready, E. and Power, E.A. 2018. Why wage-earners hunt. Food sharing, social structure and influence in an Arctic mixed economy. Current Anthropology 59 (1): 74–97.