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Arctic and Northern Challenge program consultation summaries

The National Research Council of Canada's (NRC) Arctic and Northern Challenge program was built upon extensive engagement with Northern peoples and organizations including nearly 1,000 invitations to participate in 3 different engagement phases (thematic focus groups, an online survey and technical sessions) and over 20 formal engagement sessions.

Feedback from Northern peoples included advice on priority research areas, program mechanics and the importance of cross-cutting themes such as Traditional Knowledge and capacity building. The four research themes identified were:

During the sessions, 3 broad questions were asked:

  1. Which theme-related challenges would you like to see addressed through the program?
  2. What are the roles for applied research / technology development in addressing these challenges?
  3. What are the short-term and longer-term considerations the NRC should be thinking about in relation to this theme?

This information was then used to develop the program plan and is also provided here to help inform applications to the program. More comprehensive reports on the consultations are available upon request.

Program theme: Housing

Summary of key points, issues raised and recommendations heard in the consultations for the program theme of housing.

Key points and issues raised

  • Research conducted under this program theme should improve the adequacy, suitability and affordability of Northern homes.
  • Research on housing must be situated in the broader social, cultural and economic landscape in the North and include consideration of colonialism and the dis-/re-location of Indigenous peoples.
  • Local control of the current housing system is either constrained or non-existent.
  • Many Northern and Arctic peoples are living in overcrowded quarters, particularly in Nunavut, the Northwest Territories, Nunavik and Nunatsiavut.
  • Air quality in Northern homes continues to be an issue.
  • Northerners are having to rely on Southern tradespeople to construct homes, often with little or no say in the design.
  • Current building codes conflict with the needs and realities of the North.
  • Transportation of building materials, skilled labour and the high cost of energy are major challenges.
  • Northerners must be trained to use currently available housing technology appropriately (e.g., skills in installation, repair and maintenance).
  • Climate change is impacting foundations, specifically the rising and sinking of the ground due to thawing permafrost, which has significant implications for suitable housing.
  • There is a need to acknowledge the link between the housing theme and the other thematic areas of water, food and health.
  • The goal to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and reliance on diesel fuel in rural and remote communities, especially in the high Arctic, is unrealistic for the foreseeable future.

Northerners would find value in applied research and technology development that supports the following:

  • capacity building and knowledge transfer in the North (e.g., approaches that support apprenticeship training)
  • the use of locally-sourced materials (e.g., wood for the construction of log homes)
  • modular construction of homes
  • building materials that can stand the test of time in Northern conditions (e.g., mould-resistant building products, such as wood)
  • transfer of knowledge from the builder to the homeowner to increase understanding of housing design and support proper repair and maintenance
  • retrofitting of existing housing, with the consideration of current and future realities of a changing climate
  • building designs that can be moved if need be, such as what has been done in some communities in Alaska where permafrost and flooding are becoming major issues
  • involving Northerners in the design, development, operations and maintenance of housing as key to long-term sustainability
  • culturally-appropriate, transformative solutions for housing suitability, and follow ups to ensure the validity and sustainability of applied research and technology solutions
  • not treating the North as a place to experiment with alternate building technologies


  • There needs to be opportunities to include women at all levels of housing development, from construction to building compliance and code enforcement.
  • Considering access to housing for those with vulnerabilities or cognitive disabilities is important.
  • Building codes and standards are complex, so making these more accessible is important.
  • Funding should be provided for Indigenous youth to support project proposals and mentorship programs should be considered.
  • Implementation of housing findings, including deployment of existing technologies, is needed.
  • Research projects should be undertaken in collaboration with Northern-specific housing experts.

Contact us in regards to the program theme of housing

Boualem Ouazia
Theme Lead, Housing
National Research Council of Canada

Program theme: Health

Summary of key points, issues raised and recommendations heard in the consultations for the program theme of health.

Key points and issues raised

  • Research conducted under this program theme should improve the accessibility, comprehensiveness and appropriateness of Northern health resources.
  • There is a need for increased capacity among healthcare personnel and local healthcare professionals.
  • Safety in healthcare, including cultural safety, is very important.
  • Regional healthcare centres are overwhelmed with chronic issues that could be dealt with in communities if they were better equipped to deliver services.
  • Infrastructure gaps in the North are impacting health systems.
  • There is a lack of access to data and a lack of community ownership over data collected.
  • Mental health and substance use challenges in the North are interwoven issues.
  • Inequities in healthcare are common across the North and are rooted in various factors including location, culture, linguistics, income and other social determinants.
  • The value placed on Southern qualifications over local and Traditional Knowledge contributes to inequitable healthcare for Northerners.
  • Health-related challenges in the North, specifically mental health issues, are severe.
  • There is a general lack of confidence in health systems in the North; Northerners may be hesitant about applied research and technology development.
  • Small Northern communities have experienced marginalization, and pursuing equity, diversity and inclusion is made challenging as a result.
  • Men are often left out of conversations around mental health.
  • Communities lack the necessary infrastructure to collect, store and analyze data derived from clinical tests.

Northerners would find value in applied research and technology development that supports the following:

  • an online platform and/or tools (e.g., an app or secure messaging) that bridges mental health supports for youth in the North
  • rapid testing and diagnostic solutions in the North
  • virtual platforms and tools that support cultural safety and cultural competency training for practitioners coming into communities as well as "just-in time" training for the healthcare provider (medical professional or community-based worker) at the moment and location they need it, to increase the safety of care
  • healthcare solutions that take a trauma-informed approach
  • simplified processes that eliminate roadblocks in using health services
  • intergenerational approaches to health technology development and adoption
  • community members being best placed to deliver basic health services as they can provide support and care in culturally and ethically sound ways, and speak local languages


  • People with disabilities need to be engaged to ensure that accessibility concerns are addressed, specifically given the increasing emphasis on digital healthcare.
  • Elders and unilingual speakers are often underrepresented, and efforts need to be made to facilitate their participation.
  • Consider and connect with those who struggle with digital health literacy.
  • Providing compensation for individuals to participate in training or capacity building initiatives will support inclusivity.
  • The interconnectedness of all 4 thematic areas (housing, health, food and water) must be considered when developing solutions to avoid working in silos.

Contact us in regards to the program theme of health

Stéphanie Grenier
Theme Lead, Health
National Research Council of Canada

Program theme: Food

Summary of key points, issues raised and recommendations heard in the consultations for the program theme of food.

Key points and issues raised

  • Research conducted under this program theme should improve the accessibility, availability and quality of Northern food resources.
  • Access to country food (traditional Inuit food) sources is important.
  • Climate change is increasingly limiting access to traditional and local foods.
  • Food storage and transportation continue to present significant challenges to food security.
  • The COVID-19 pandemic has accentuated the need for long-term food self-sufficiency.
  • Self-determination is vital to food sovereignty.
  • The presence of community food organizations can lead to innovation and development.
  • Local values should be at the centre of food systems in the North.
  • Connecting Elders to youth in the context of traditional harvesting can help to preserve Indigenous languages and culture.
  • Key infrastructure gaps (e.g., lack of roads, high energy costs) are impacting access and availability of food in the North.
  • There is a need to build long-term capacity within Northern communities, as certain food-related knowledge, skills and abilities are not yet common in Northern and Arctic regions (e.g., skills required for a horticulture technician).
  • Policy in the North is not well configured to enable local food system ownership and control.

Northerners would find value in applied research and technology development that supports the following:

  • food sharing and/or regional food hubs
  • informed decisions about traveling on the ice for hunting, which is necessary due to climate change
  • innovation to adapt agricultural inputs (e.g., hoses, clamps, motors) for use in a Northern climate and to support industrialization
  • establishment and/or advancement of locally harvested food processing plants in the North
  • improvements to all aspects of food logistics (e.g., food transportation infrastructure and logistics, the cost effectiveness of Northern agriculture)


  • Collaboration is vital and technologies need to be inexpensive as well as easy to use and repair.
  • The program should aim to support, scale and build-on successful solutions that already exist in the North.
  • Efforts need to be made to ensure that women are equal partners in dialogue and youth must be involved in designing and conducting applied research and developing technology.
  • Research and technology solutions should narrow the gap between vulnerable populations and those less vulnerable.
  • Technologies that include Traditional Knowledge are of utmost importance in the North and will be a key to success.
  • Compensation to Northern research participants must be fair and inclusive.

Contact us in regards to the program theme of food

Shawn Clark
Theme Lead, Food
National Research Council of Canada

Program theme: Water

Summary of key points, issues raised and recommendations heard in the consultations for the program theme of water.

Key points and issues raised

  • Research conducted under this program theme should improve the availability, accessibility and quality of Northern water resources.
  • Water supply issues vary across the North.
  • Water source availability, water sovereignty, water treatment and especially wastewater treatment are very important.
  • Inuit are often more impacted by water quality because they live in poorer and overcrowded housing conditions.
  • Improving drinking water quality, including solutions to contamination of household storage tanks, needs to be a research priority.
  • Capacity building is of high importance, including the training and retaining of skilled water infrastructure operators, data managers and the certification of workers, to ensure municipal drinking water is properly treated and tested.
  • Solutions should be simple and easy to use.
  • Elders and youth are often left out; they have knowledge and ideas and need to be engaged in the research process.
  • Aging infrastructure (e.g., old utility corridor pipes, pump houses) should be addressed.
  • Existing structures will sometimes exclude certain groups of people either consciously or unconsciously.
  • There is lack of capacity when it comes to the certification of water treatment plant operators; this is also true of capacity to monitor and collect baseline water data, and to share collected data.

Northerners would find value in applied research and technology development that supports the following:

  • understanding the impacts of climate change on groundwater and water quality
  • understanding the role of permafrost in the context of a changing climate and the potential risks to water supply from permafrost loss (e.g., seepage into ground water, collapsed utility corridor pipes, run off)
  • studying ice breakups in rivers


  • Community focused projects (where communities are involved in agenda-setting) and emphasizing partnership and relationship building can lead to greater inclusivity.
  • Providing translation opportunities for communities and being aware of language barriers, which limit the people who may be contributing information and/or using the technology, is important.
  • Diverse points of view need to be considered in research projects.
  • Water systems in the North do not have to look like systems in the South; Southern technologies are generally not appropriate for the Arctic.

Contact us in regards to the program theme of water

Andrew Colombo
Theme Lead, Water
National Research Council of Canada