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NWT Species at Risk Committee adopts new species assessment process to better reflect Indigenous and community knowledge


The Northwest Territories (NWT) Species at Risk Committee (SARC) recently adopted a new species assessment process to determine the status of species that may be at risk in the NWT.

Going forward, two separate sets of criteria will be used by SARC, based in Indigenous and community knowledge and scientific knowledge, respectively. The final species assessment can be supported by criteria from either, or both, knowledge systems, depending on the best available information.

The adoption of these new criteria reflects SARC’s responsibility to base its assessments on Indigenous, community and scientific knowledge equally and respectfully.

“Around the world, accepted standards for species at risk assessments are based strongly in western science. However, there is increasing acceptance that Indigenous and community knowledges are systems of knowing in their own right that do not need to fit within a model of, or be verified by, western science.”

- Leon Andrew, Chair, Northwest Territories Species at Risk Committee

In this context, it became clear to SARC that the assessment process needed to be rethought and rebuilt in a manner that recognizes the local, holistic, eco-centric and social-spiritual context of Indigenous knowledges. This is the view from which theseguidelines were developed, consistent with Article 8(j) of the Convention on Biological Diversity.

The new assessment process adopted by SARC is unique in the world. Although expanding the role of Indigenous and community knowledge in species assessments has been contemplated elsewhere, the use of western science in species assessments is often considered to be necessary for scientific credibility and defense.

Through a more balanced and holistic approach to species assessment, SARC hopes to provide room for both knowledge systems to exist and interact as equals.

Quick facts:

  • SARC uses objective biological criteria to assess and categorize species. The criteria are tools, not hard and fast rules. They are a way for SARC to show its work and explain how it determined the status of a species.
  • All members of SARC, regardless of the knowledge system that best represents their expertise, participate throughout the process. This allows experts in different fields to learn from one another, while working towards a species assessment supported by all best available information.
  • SARC’s assessment process and objective biological criteria now differ markedly from those used by the Committee on the Status of Endangered Wildlife in Canada (COSEWIC) and the International Union for the Conservation of Nature (IUCN). This reflects SARC’s interest in, and mandate to, base its assessments on Indigenous, community and scientific knowledge.
  • The new assessment process will be applied for the first time to the re-assessment of polar bear in April 2021.
  • The effectiveness of the new assessment criteria will be reviewed regularly by SARC.

For more information, contact:

Species at Risk Committee
c/o Species at Risk Secretariat
PO Box 1320
Yellowknife, NT X1A 2L9
Phone: (867) 767-9237 ext. 53216