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Cool Connection:SIKU Goose Watch Returns on April 1

BY Joshua Janke Apr 16, 2024

SIKU, the Indigenous Knowledge Social Network, has ice and geese trending again this spring as the annual goose watch competition takes flight for its fourth season on April 1. All Eeyou Istchee communities are eligible for the prizes available, including a $100 gift card for the first qualifying goose harvest post in each community. “Spring is the time when everyone is getting out there, in the wild, so we wanted to help reengage people, both with their natural surroundings and each other,” says Joel Heath, executive director of SIKU’s founding organization, the Arctic Eider Society. The contest will be open to anyone who signs up for the free SIKU app, described on the app store as “a mobile app and web platform by and for Inuit which provides tools and services for ice safety, weather forecasting, language preservation, and knowledge transfer.”

The SIKU app is focused on a map labelled with user-generated icons indicating everything from ice thickness to animal spotting, with names all written in original dialects and colonial borders removed. “The new names and new border lines we see on regular maps now, they were not here on day one, so why should they appear on the SIKU map?” says co-founder Lucassie Aragutainag. The app is similar to the traffic app called Waze which incorporates user-generated data to provide real-time road updates and conditions. However, SIKU excels off the grid in the nature, allowing users to create posts in real-time while hunting without an internet connection, and then upload all the vital information recorded when back home. Like all social networks, SIKU intends to also help strengthen the ties and communication between communities.

Lucassie Arragutainaq from Sanikiluaq, Nunavut, says that the app’s first inspiration came from Inuk seal hunter Peter Kattuk. “Peter would go out on the land and report everything he saw and learned. He would come back to tell the community what they could do and what was safe – everything to make the hunt possible and successful. One day I asked, how can we do this but make it for everyone and easier for you. And Peter told me, ‘It’s time to put the harpoon and the computer to work together.’” Recipient of the 2022 Northern Science Award, Arragutainaq has documented Indigenous ecological knowledge and participated in multiple studies on Hudson Bay’s changing environment, working alongside Joel Heath to change the region’s course of research by bringing community voices and priorities to the forefront. “There were so many people involved in this,” Arragutainaq says. “When we work together, we learn how to make things work for everyone. The Inuit environment is changing, it has been changing, and for 20 years, we have been asking the other side to prove our pressing issues to the world. With SIKU, we are proving Indigenous issues for ourselves.”

Heath agrees, showing how SIKU provides a professional, data-driven platform that evens the playing field in environmental debates. “The brainstorm for SIKU realized that Peter’s knowledge was often written off as stories or anecdotal by non-Indigenous people, but we knew every time he was at the ice flow edge that he had data points and that he had talked to others in the hunter peer review system.”

Heath says that SIKU’s goal is to help provide equity in governance and decision-making, allowing Inuit and Indigenous people to say, “Look, we are out here every day and we have data.” This helps increase investment in Inuit knowledge. “We need to stop giving all the money to academics and start looking at what communities can do when given the right tools.”

Since 2020, the goose watch has increased the awareness and communication of climate change issues, using a scientific, data-driven app that allows the documentation and sharing of hunting stories to increase intercommunity connection. “Instead of adding a photo filter to the goose or seal photo, you can put a picture, its name in your preferred dialect, and other information such as tagging the stomach contents, the location it was caught in, that sort of thing.”

The data comes out in yearly totals, including graphs showing what the animals are eating, allowing hunters and scientists alike to see how the diets of animals change with the seasons or when they are most hungry with empty stomachs. Heath says this helps generate future predictions used to protect wildlife and continue sustainable harvesting methods. For example, SIKU’s data from 2022 showed that in winter months, nearly a third of seals had shrimp in their belly when caught, compared to in the summer months, when fish accounted for over 60% of belly contents and shrimp less than 10%.

Heath says the app has helped hunters in the short term by giving them a better understanding of goose location in neighbouring communities, while also providing long-term benefits. “We hear these sorts of things from the elders, that new species are showing up, or the timing of the spring migration has been changing, which is cause for interest for both hunters and environmentalist research,” he explains.

In 2022, SIKU’s goose watch gained national attention for helping track the avian flu outbreak. “It just goes to show what is possible when we invest in Indigenous communities and large-scale climate data projects,” says Heath.

In 2023, over 200 different users from 46 communities made over 1000 goose posts, showing the possibilities of large-scale Indigenous environmental cooperation.

The 2024 Goose Watch is open to everyone, inviting participants to track the spring goose migration by simply downloading and signing up on the SIKU app, while Inuit, Cree, and Innu communities will all be eligible to have the chance to win prizes totaling $1000. The challenge encourages sharing knowledge among northern communities about goose migration, nesting, hatching, and population health. To join, participants need to create an eligible Goose Post on the SIKU App between April 1st and July 31st, 2024, following specific rules:
• Prize-eligible goose posts must be made within eligible communities in Inuit Nunangat, James Bay (including Mushkegowuk and Eeyou Istchee Cree communities), and Innu Nation communities in Labrador.

 • Posts must accurately capture the location and time of the goose harvest or observation, including tagging the community and including a photo of the goose, nest, or eggs.

 • Only one post per goose harvest or observation is eligible, and all posts must be genuine, without duplicates or old photos.

Residents of all Inuit, Eeyou Istchee Cree, and Innu communities have the chance to win prizes, including a $100 gift card for the first qualifying goose harvest post in each community. Additionally, all eligible posts entered between April 1st and July 31st, 2024, will be submitted into the Grand Prize draw, with prizes including a $1000 Gift Card for the 1st place winner, a $500 gift card for 2nd place, and a $250 gift card for 3rd place. See full details at https://siku.org/ and keep posting to increase your chances of winning!

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Joshua Janke lives in Montreal and is studying English Literature at Mcgill University. He is passionate about writing, social justice, and creating art.