Waterlines: Confluence and Hope through Environmental Communication. The 15th biennial Conference on Communication and Environment (COCE). June 17-21, 2019, University of British Columbia, Vancouver, Canada

Counting caribou, discounting hunters: Spatial marginalization through participatory democracy in western Nunavut

Chui-Ling Tam's picture
Tam, Chui-Ling
Chew, Suzanne
Category of presentation: 

Under Nunavut's model of consensus government, public hearings are central to participation in a deliberative democracy. The timing and location of hearings involve significant and contested considerations across the vast territory. The spatiality of participation can serve to marginalize those publics most affected by environmental policy decisions. Spatial marginalization was evident when the Nunavut Wildlife Management Board invited Hunters and Trappers Organizations from four Kitikmeot communities to caribou hearings in June 2016 to discuss a proposed Total Allowable Harvest. The hearings were held in Cambridge Bay, the administrative and economic centre of the Kitikmeot region. In situ observation during the hearings coupled with a content analysis of hearing transcripts and interviews with attendees suggest that decisions on participation space affect access materially because of who can be there in place to participate, and socially because of the place characteristics of participation. Participants can also be constrained by being out of place, cleaved from the affective support of their communities. To nurture inclusive participation, it must be recognized that spatial choices and space design are not neutral. 


We address findings of the study, but also what came next. The first author wrote an academic paper. The second author (a doctoral student under the former’s supervision) wrote a poem based on the academic paper; the poem was well received by local communities and figured prominently in local conversations about our research. The reception to the paper and the poem, and the local public places that were significant to the communities involved, provide lessons on communicative space and practice in not only small indigenous communities, but also the contextual implications of spatially bound communication actors.