The Shared Stories of People and Plants: Cultural and Ecological Relationships Between People and Plants in Makkovik, Nunatsiavut (Labrador, Canada)

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Oberndorfer, Erica




People and plants live in complex networks of cultural and ecological relationships. In northern Canada, plants are important to cultural practices, just as cultural practices shape plant communities. This research responds to research priorities identified by Makkovimiut, residents of the Inuit Community of Makkovik, Nunatsiavut (Labrador, Canada), on people-plant relationships (2012-2016). These priorities shaped the research objectives, which form the three central chapters of this integrated thesis: i) learning how to respectfully approach research on people-plant relationships in Makkovik; ii) learning about Makkovimiut relationships with plants; iii) learning about the effects of cultural practices on plant communities. Chapter 2 details and evaluates approaches in Indigenous methodologies that guide the research. As a non-Indigenous student, I rooted research questions in personal meaning and community relevancy, which I sought to understand through preliminary research, the ongoing guidance of community advisors, and by going as a learner to Makkovimiut plant mentors. An iterative approach to learning helped build relationships with Makkovimiut plant mentors and plants. Chapter 3 discusses Makkovimiut plant knowledge and practices. Plants support life and livelihood for Makkovimiut, and sustain cultural practices such as fishing, which reciprocally support plant communities. Plants are more than objects: plants are present in memory, well-being, and sharing, and have voices of their own. In actively managing—caring for—plants, Makkovimiut nurture the ecological and cultural values that create healthy communities for both people and plants. These values are expressed in the stories people tell about plants. Chapter 4 explores how research in plant ecology helps voice the stories plants tell about people. The urban ecology of the North shows the lasting effects of metals, salt and wood in soils and plant communities of commercial fishing stations, while specific plants of family fishing places speak to a legacy of soil enrichment. When Makkovimiut cultural knowledge directs and interprets ecological research, the voices of plants and soils become stories that tell of enduring ecological footprints in this peopled northern landscape. Interdisciplinary research deepens our understanding of the shared stories of people and plants, and creates space for people and plants to enrich each other’s stories.


Native American Studies




Carleton University


Academic supervisor and co-author: 
Gita Ljubicic
Community advisor and co-author: 
Carol Gear
Academic committee member and co-author: 
Jeremy Lundholm
Community advisor, guide and co-author: 
Todd Broomfield

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Theses and Dissertations

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