InukBook Project Featured in Canadian Geographic

This past week, members of the InukBook Team attended the Adaptation Canada conference in Ottawa, Ontario, including Dr. Sherilee Harper, Dr. James Ford, Anna Bunce, Derrick Pottle, and Jamie Snook. I had the privilege of representing the team, and presenting our project to a large audience of researchers, decision-makers, government representatives, Indigenous leaders, NGOs.

A journalist from Canadian Geographic wrote a feature on our project, highlighting the potential the InukBook has to support Inuit in making near real-time decisions through active monitoring of environment and health conditions. As an excerpt explains:

All the data that’s collected is specifically meant to meet local and regional needs and priorities,” said Willox. “While we expect much of it will be able to be expanded and inform other parts of the polar North, the key right now is to find a way for Nunatsiavut residents to be able to respond to what they’re experiencing at both the climatic change level and the impacts on health.”

To read the article, click on the picture below.

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3 Part Video Series on Eskasoni

I always feel very grateful to be able to do the work that I do, and learn from the people with whom I work. And working with Cassidy Jean McAuliffe was no different!

This summer, Cassidy spent a month in Unama’ki/Cape Breton working with the community of Eskasoni First Nations, Sharon Rudderham, Daphne Hutt-MacLeod, and the amazing staff at the Eskasoni Health Centre, and myself, to produce a three-part video series telling the Eskasoni Story.

Cassidy has produced a series of three very powerful vignettes, looking at past, present, and future, and celebrates the power, resilience, healing, and strength of Eskasoni First Nations.


Climate Change: The Next Challenge for Public Mental Health

This past year, I have had the pleasure of working with Dr. Francois Bourque, a clinical psychiatrist and PhD Candidate at Kings College London, on a manuscript aimed primarily at mental health providers around the topic of climate change and mental health. We are pleased to share our newly-published article, straight from the International Review of Psychiatry (August 2014; 26(4): 415-422).


Climate change is increasingly recognized as one of the greatest threat to human health of the 21st century, with consequences that mental health professionals are also likely to face. While physical health impacts have been increasingly emphasized in literature and practice, recent scholarly literature indicate that climate change and related weather events and environmental changes can profoundly impact psychological well-being and mental health through both direct and indirect pathways, particularly among those with pre-existing vulnerabilities or those living in ecologically-sensitive areas. Although knowledge is still limited about the connections between climate change and mental health, evidence is indicating that impacts may be felt at both the individual and community levels, with mental health outcomes ranging from psychological distress, depression and anxiety, to increased addictions and suicide rates. Drawing on examples from diverse geographical areas, this contribution highlights some climate-sensitive impacts that may be encountered by mental health professionals. We then suggest potential avenues for public mental health in light of current and projected changes, in order to stimulate thought, debate, and action.

Click here to read the article.

Arctic: As Ice Sheets Melt, Communities Worry that Health Effects are Overlooked

Happy to share this article, by Henry Gass, from Climate Wire.

“Reprinted with permission. Copyright 2014, Environment & Energy Publishing, LLC,”

An E&E Publishing Service

ClimateWireARCTIC: As ice sheets melt, communities worry that health effects are overlooked  (Thursday, May 29, 2014)

Henry Gass, E&E reporter

Strong winds fractured a sheet of melting ice near Barrow, Alaska, one April afternoon, cutting a three-man whaling crew adrift in the Arctic Ocean. A boat had to be dispatched to rescue them, and according to local observers, the narrowly averted tragedy wasn’t a surprise.

“One captain predicted this to happen, so perhaps more experienced whalers are adapting to the unpredictability of young sea ice and avoiding traveling during high winds,” concluded a report posted after the event to the Local Environmental Observer (LEO) Network. “But even experienced hunters can get into trouble.”

Hosted by the Center for Climate and Health at the Alaska Native Tribal Health Consortium in Anchorage, the LEO network catalogs ongoing environmental and public health changes in northern communities, from treacherous sea ice conditions to new, exotic diseases. There isn’t much research in those fields, so across the Arctic, scientists are relying on anecdotal evidence from self-reported incidents like the whaling team rescue to piece together ways that climate change is threatening the health of already-vulnerable northern communities.

The Arctic has warmed by 2 degrees Celsius since the mid-1960s, according to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, wreaking havoc on local communities in ways that scientists have been carefully documenting.

“We have a huge body of knowledge, local observations, climatological records, meteorological records, that are saying climate change is happening [in the Arctic],” said Ashlee Cunsolo Willox, a professor of community health at Cape Breton University in Sydney, Nova Scotia. “What we don’t have is an evidence base for how people are adapting and what that can mean in the context of health.”

Of Hot Pockets and alcohol

“H-E-R-O-N. Heron?” asked Charlotte Wolfrey, mayor of Rigolet, a small Inuit community on the coast of Labrador, in the Canadian Arctic.

Wolfrey had never seen a blue heron until recent summers, and she wasn’t sure how to spell it. All she knew was that they were now ranging up to Rigolet — a town about as close to the Greenland border as the United States — and disrupting the local ecology, destroying eggs the local Inuit usually gather and cook themselves.

Health and food are inextricably tied, and perhaps the most visible health impact of climate change in the Arctic is diet.

Marauding southern birds aren’t the only threat to traditional Arctic food supplies, Wolfrey said. In fact, the main health threat may not be the advance of new animals, but the retreat of sea ice. With the ice forming much later and appearing much earlier in the warming climate, it’s as if Arctic communities are getting shut out of their own supermarkets.

Cunsolo Willox said it is “very well-documented” that decreased access to hunting has forced more northerners to store-bought food, which has been linked to increasing rates of diabetes and obesity. Michael Brubaker, director of the Center for Climate and Health at the Alaska Native Tribal Health Consortium, agreed.

“If there’s no caribou in your freezer, what’s taking its place?” Brubaker asked. “If it’s Hot Pockets, that’s not a healthy alternative.”

The physical health risks of climate change in the Arctic are expansive. Brubaker pointed to increases in rickets, a vitamin D deficiency and waterborne diseases. Some people fall through flimsy ice — a few to their deaths — and most communities are afraid to venture out and hunt on the ice for fear they’ll never come back.

The effects cascade, Wolfrey said. Unpredictable, melting ice prevents hunting, which leads to an unhealthy diet and other unhealthy pursuits while people are “restricted” in town.

“When we’re restricted from going out there, sometimes people choose to drink more and do more drugs,” Wolfrey said.

Reopening old wounds

Research on climate change-related health effects in the Arctic is young, and Cunsolo Willox noted the lack of statistical evidence describing increases in problems like diabetes, drug use and fatal crashes through sea ice. What scientists do have — as evidenced by the LEO Network and Cunsolo Willox’s study — is plenty of anecdotal evidence in need of further documenting and organizing.

And the issues in northern communities that need attention may date back far earlier than the first observations of climate change.

“Often what makes people vulnerable to climate-related health risks has little to do with the actual climate, but rather is reflective of underlying social, cultural, and economic factors,” said a study co-authored by Cunsolo Willox and published online last month in the American Journal of Public Health.

Rigolet has an 80 percent unemployment rate, and unemployment across the Arctic averages around 30 to 40 percent, according to Wolfrey. The Inuit have the highest suicide rate in Canada — especially among young people, Wolfrey said — and the communities carry deep-seated trauma that’s transferred from generation to generation.

Towns have been forcibly relocated, and recent generations of children were taken in their early teens to residential schools, government-funded schools operated through the 19th and 20th centuries where Native students “lived in substandard conditions and endured physical and emotional abuse,” according to the CBC.

The psychological impacts live with the Inuit today, Wolfrey said. Her mother, who grew up in a residential school, was “disconnected” and never showed her much physical affection. Wolfrey was sent to a school in eighth grade, worked all day, cried herself to sleep every night and ran away after six months. Her mother had been so distant, she fled to her grandfather’s house.

“I carried some of that with me into my first chance at parenting,” Wolfrey said. “There’s a big ripple effect down through the generations.”

The mental and physical isolation wrought by climate change only compounds this emotional trauma, she said. The Inuit would escape out on the ice, spending a few days communing with nature and getting back to their roots. If they want to do that now, they risk falling through thin ice into freezing water.

The Cunsolo Willox study called for, among other things, “an inexpensive, quick, and effective starting point to enhance the monitoring and control of climate-sensitive health outcomes.” And while researchers start to identify and treat the health problems of climate change in the Arctic, communities there are already trying to adapt.

“We need to do more mental health awareness and mental health programming, and that’s climate change or not,” Wolfrey said.

“There are a lot of things that are changing, and we’re trying to adapt,” she added.


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TEDx Cape Breton Bio

Thanks to the folks at TEDx Cape Breton, some of my personal quirks and interests are outlined in a bio profile. Click on the link below to learn more about the work I do and other fun facts!

And thanks to the TEDx Cape Breton team for getting this out there!

About Ashlee.

Aboriginal Health Round Table, Global Development Symposium

I’m very excited to highlight a special session that I co-organized with Sherilee Harper at the Global Development Symposium. This 2 hour session featured presentations, audience activities, and loads of great discussions on the topic of Indigenous Health in Canada. In particular, the presence of Charlotte Wolfrey and Inez Shiwak from the Inuit community of Rigolet, Nunatsiavut, Labrador, and our long-time collaborators and research partners, added tremendous depth and perspective to the discussions. Thanks to everyone who came out last week and made this session such a dynamic and inspiring dialogue!

Community-led Research as an Environmental Health Strategy in Indigenous Communities: Experiences and stories from Northern Canada

Session Panel:

  • Sherilee Harper, Assistant Professor, University of Guelph
  • Ashlee Cunsolo Willox, CRC, Assistant Professor, Cape Breton University
  • Charlotte Wolfrey, AngajukKâk (Mayor), Rigolet Inuit Community Government
  • Inez Shiwak, My Word Storytelling and Digital Media Lab, Rigolet Inuit Community Government
  • Margot Parkes, CRC, Associate Professor, University of Northern British Columbia

Session Abstract:

Global environmental and climatic change can have adverse impacts on health and wellbeing, especially for Indigenous populations who often rely on local ecosystems for livelihoods, culture, and partial subsistence.  As such, research on how to adapt to the impacts of environmental and climatic change on Indigenous health has been increasing in the past decade.  Many adaptation plans include principles of capacity development, community participation, sustainability, and systems thinking, with a focus on developing tangible program  outcomes.  From experiences designing and delivering health-related community-based and community-led research initiatives across the North, we argue that research, and engaging in and leading research processes, can also be a potential adaptation strategy and may increase adaptive capacities.

In order to explore the potential for health research to become an adaptation strategy in and of itself, this session will 1) provide an overview of environmental change and health adaptation across the North, and the importance of moving from community participation to community leadership in research; 2) share research design and delivery insights from community-led research initiatives conducted across the Canadian North physical and mental health to inform health adaptation; and 3) discuss how innovative digital data collection methodologies can foster, support, and mobilize community-led climate change and health adaptation research in Indigenous communities across the North.

These presentations will illustrate how Inuit and Northern First Nations communities are taking control of their own research agenda, and actively undertake projects which meet the needs and priorities of the community in meaningful and locally-appropriate manners—research that moves from a community-based to a community-led framework, allowing communities to increase their overall research capacity, respond rapidly to research questions and needs that emerge, and actively create evidence-based health adaptation strategies in the communities to respond to the challenges of a rapidly changing environment.

New article published: Adapting to the Health Effects of Climate Change on Inuit Health

I’m happy to share a new publication that was just released online today through The American Journal of Public Health. This article was a collaborative effort of the members of the IK-Adapt Project, and examines strategies for adapting to the health effects of climate change within an Inuit context. And there’s some cool pics and a map too…

Abstract: Climate change will have far-reaching implications for Inuit health. Focusing on adaptation offers a pro-active approach for managing climate-related health risks—one that views Inuit populations as activeagents in planning and responding at household, community, and regional levels. Adaptation can direct attention to the root causes of climate vulnerability and emphasize the importanceof traditional knowledge regarding environmental change and adaptive strategies. An evidence base on adaptation optionsand processes for Inuit regions is currently lacking, however, thus constraining climate policy development. In this article, we tackled this deficit, drawing upon our understanding of thedeterminants of health vulnerability to climate change in Canada to propose key considerations for adaptation decision-making in an Inuit context.

The article is available online here for reading and distribution.