Lakehead's Centre for Northern Studies Represented at Recent Polar Bear Recovery Strategy Workshop

(November 11, 2010 – Thunder Bay, Ontario) Two researchers from Lakehead University's Centre for Northern Studies, Dr. Martha Dowlsey and Dr. Harvey Lemelin, recently attended a workshop proposing to develop a Polar Bear Recovery Strategy in Ontario.

The meeting, held in Timmins from October 28 to 29, was hosted jointly by the Nature Conservancy of Canada and the Ontario Ministry of Natural Resources. First Nation representatives from communities located along the Hudson and James Bay coasts, agency personnel, and researchers from across Canada were invited to the two-day workshop which aimed to developing a recovery plan for the species which was recently listed as threatened in Ontario. The plan is expected to be released to the public by early next year, with the entire process wrapping up by fall 2011.

The workshop came several months after the release of the research report Giving Voice to Bear: Cree Observations and Documentation of Wabusk in Ontario, co-written and co-published by researchers from the Fort Severn First Nation, the Keewaytinook Okimakanak Research Institute (KORI), and the Centre for Northern Studies at Lakehead Univeristy, as well as a recently accepted journal article by the same research team entitled Wabusk of the Omushkegouk: Cree Interactions with Polar Bears (Ursus maritimus) in the muskeg of Northern Ontario in the interdisciplinary journal of Human Ecology. Both the report and journal publication document Cree knowledge of polar bears in Ontario from multi-disciplinary perspectives.

For Dr. Dowsley, this workshop represented an opportunity to showcase and possibly implement findings from a partner-based, two-year, SSHRC-funded research project of which she is the principal investigator. Alongside Dr. Dowsley, research partners involved in the project include Fort Severn First Nation, KORI, and Dr. Lemelin. Using a Participatory Action Research model, the team is documenting Swampy Cree interactions with polar bears, and historic interactions between the Cree and the Ontario government regarding the species. "Polar bears are one of several species with very high subsistence and cultural value to the people of Fort Severn and Weenusk. The goal of our project is to build capacity in the communities to manage these resources," says Dr. Dowsley.

Dr. Lemelin attended the workshop as a representative of the Fort Severn First Nation and co-investigator on Dr. Dowsley's SSHRC project. The workshop culminated more than a decade of his research which examines human-polar bear interactions in Northern Canada and Northern Ontario. According to Dr. Lemelin, "Instead of inventing a brand-new polar bear management strategy, we now have the chance to build on the proposed Wabusk Co-Management Agreement drafted in the 1990s, which was pro-active and insightful though never ratified. We can now re-examine and update the agreement and incorporate some of the findings and recommendations from the research in Fort Severn and Weenusk," Dr. Lemelin explains.

Director of the Centre for Northern Studies, Dr. Michel S. Beaulieu, notes, "The research by Drs. Dowsley and Lemelin highlights the important and cutting-edge work being done at the Centre for Northern Studies, which contributes substantially to northern communities."

Media: Dr. Dowsley and Dr. Lemelin are available for media interview until 4:00 p.m. today, and Dr. Lemelin can speak to both French and English media. To arrange interviews, please contact them directly at 807-343-8430/, or 807-343-8745/ respectively.