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Managing Nutrition and Health in a Changing Climate: A Yellowknives Dene First Nation Perspective


Background and Significance: Arctic Indigenous peoples (IP) are vulnerable to climate change due to the influence of the Arctic’s natural resources on economic and nutritional status, socio-cultural identity, and spiritual and physical health. Climate change is projected to affect global food systems and is presently disturbing traditional food systems, thus creating inequitable costs for IP who rely on both systems and resulting in unknown impacts on their nutrition and health. Comprehending IP’s lived experience and resilience to climate and global environmental change is important to the development of programs that protect the welfare of IP and is essential to the local, national and international dialogue on nutrition and climate-related policy.

Methodology: A constructivist grounded theory method was utilized to systematically obtain and analyze data. In-depth interviews with 14 members of Yellowknives Dene First Nation (YKDFN) who harvest and use traditional foods in the Northwest Territories were conducted in 2010 and 2011. The interviews solicited data on the participants’ lived experience that revealed their views, feelings, intentions and actions. Theoretical sampling was used to explicate the theory being developed. Analytic codes, categories and themes were constructed from the data using a constant comparative method for analysis.

Results: The findings of this study provide insight on the complexity of the interdependence between food, nutrition, human health, and social-ecological factors. Climate change, contamination of the land and waters, changes in migration patterns and availability of species, and rapid social and cultural changes represent the global environmental change experienced by YKDFN. Nutrition and health are influenced by the perspective that “the land is what sustains us.” Social capital is strengthened by sharing practices and linkages with government, industry, and environmental institutions that share a commitment to sustainable use and development of natural resources.

Conclusion: The Global Environmental Change-YKDFN model and findings may enhance localized dialogue regarding nutrition and ecosystem services among decision-makers that include Indigenous, federal and territorial governments. This study also contributes to the body of knowledge that captures the human and cultural dimension of global environmental change, which is needed in the support and development of diverse and sustainable food systems in the context of climate change.

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