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Preserving a way of life

Alum Misha Warbanski and the Arctic Eider Society win prize to work with Inuit and Cree communities to map changing sea ice
June 28, 2017
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By Richard Burnett

As the ice in the Canadian North melts, a new project is helping Northern communities monitor and adapt to the changes.

Misha Warbanski, BA (journ.) 08, is a member of the Arctic Eider Society (AES) team that won a $750,000 prize in the 2017 Google Impact Challenge. The challenge supports Canadian non-profits with innovative projects that aim to better our world.

Misha Warbanski Misha Warbanski is the Arctic Eider Society’s logistics and administrative coordinator. She says the small group shares many responsibilities. “It’s a team effort and we all pitch in wherever we can.” | Photo: AES

The AES is a registered Canadian charity working with Inuit and Cree communities to address issues of food security, safety and environmental stewardship for sea ice and marine ecosystems.

AES won their Google Impact Challenge prize for SIKU (pronounced: see-coo), their new online social media and mapping platform that will harness social media, wiki and digital mapping technologies to address these challenges.

NASA reports that Arctic sea ice is declining at over 13 per cent per decade. Siku, the Inuktitut word for sea ice, is integral to the way of life of tens of thousands of Inuit living along Hudson Bay and Canada’s Arctic coastline.

The SIKU platform will provide a set of open-source tools to help Inuit communities map changing sea ice, and build a living archive of Inuit knowledge to help inform decision-making for stewardship and sustainable development.

Warbanski sat down to discuss her career, the impact of the prize will have for the SIKU platform and how Concordia helped her become a key team player at AES.

What do you hope to achieve with SIKU?

Misha Warbanski: “We are currently working with Hudson Bay and James Bay communities to address local priorities and to share what’s happening in each other’s communities. We’ll be working to expand SIKU across the Arctic.

People — from students to elders and hunters — contribute their knowledge, and we hope that every single animal species and type of sea ice will have its own profile.”

Jimmy Iqaluq Sanikiluaq elder Jimmy Iqaluq describes a frozen seascape captured by an aerial drone.

Your $750,000 prize is some serious cash!

MW: “We’re really thrilled that Google has confidence in our ideas to build this platform.”

What is your timeline to introduce SIKU?

MW: “Right now we are working with Google.org to finalize what it will all look like, and we have to abide by best practices for charities and so on. We are looking at a three-year project to get this fully launched. There’s a lot of back-end development time since this is a web platform as well as a mobile app.

We already have a prototype online that links five communities already doing their own monitoring, which is giving us a bigger picture of environmental change in Hudson Bay. Every time a community researcher goes out onto the ice, takes measurements and makes observations, that is being shared on this platform.

We want to take that to the next level, add additional tools and features to expand it beyond the five communities we already work with, expand more broadly across the north.”

Aerial drones provide a unique perspective on sea scares Integrating the latest video technology, aerial drones provide a unique perspective on sea scares. In this picture, a young hunter stands at the edge of the floe edge. | Photo: AES

How big a team are you at the AES?

MW: “We’re pretty small, about five people contributing full-time hours, plus our networks in the communities, such as liaisons and hunters.

Because we are such a small team, we each wear many hats. I am the logistics and administrative coordinator, but I do everything from write grant applications to communications and also help out on field work. It’s a team effort and we all pitch in wherever we can.”

How did you get involved?

MW: “I got involved with AES in 2010 after I graduated from Concordia’s journalism program and worked in public broadcasting for a number of years. I had gotten entangled in the film industry in British Columbia, culminating in the award-winning AES documentary film People of a Feather [about survival in the changing Canadian Arctic].

I worked on post-production on that not-for profit film, which supports the charitable activities of the AES.

In the meantime I went back to school to study biology at UVic [University of Victoria] and its Bamfield Marine Sciences Centre, and graduated in 2014.

It’s been a fun and meaningful mix of communications and science that is really trying to make a difference for a lot of communities. It feels good to wake up in the morning knowing I work with a group that is trying to make a difference in our world.”

An Inuit hunter uses a harpoon to test the ice An Inuit hunter uses a harpoon to test the ice. | Photo: AES

How did your time at Concordia help shape you?

MW: “I think for a lot of people of my generation, it hasn’t always been a straightforward linear route to a career. I think Concordia gave me a lot of really valuable tools and skills to be flexible in this kind of strange time.

Journalism gave me a lot of hands-on experience that I use in my work, dealing with people and building relationships, harnessing communications tools and helping people in the communities tell their stories and represent themselves in the world.”

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