Planning for Community Health: A study of the Inuvialuit Region, NWT
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Land use decisions can facilitate or hinder the creation of healthy communities and as such, the health and well-being of their residents. This research project has the goal of exploring the connections between land use planning and community health in remote, Arctic communities; it asks a central question: if we were given the means to improve community health through planning, how would we best proceed? Arctic communities are experiencing rapid change as a result of demographic, economic and technological factors. The pressure for resource development in the Arctic is significant and communities are facing challenging decisions in terms of land use in their regions. In addition, measures of health and well-being indicate health deficits in Arctic communities in comparison with non-Arctic communities in Canada. As such, Arctic communities represent an important study region due to both this compelling health deficit, as well as increased pressure on the land base. For this research project, the Inuvialuit region, NWT was used as a case study. A qualitative inquiry was undertaken given the research objective of generating localized and specific information in the context of remote, Arctic communities. In addition, limited information was available on the subject area which made this ‘theory generating’ methodology most relevant. Fifteen semi-structured interviews were conducted with expert/ knowledge holders, the majority of whom were from the study area. Information gathered was analyzed using the constant comparison method. Available statistical and quantitative data from secondary sources was compiled into community profiles and used for comparison with interview data and to add richness to the analysis. The study indicated that there was strong connection between community health and land use in the region. The reasons given for this connection were as follows: cultural connection – describing the basis for culture that arises from the historic and current connection with the land, self-determination – as it relates to ownership and control over ancestral lands, functional relationship with land – in terms of services provided including air, water, wildlife, and food, economic basis in the land – in terms of monetary value (or replacement value) of goods obtained directly from the land and the holistic connection between the land and community well-being – describing the innate value of the land as it positively impacts people’s health beyond the functional or cultural value. Variations in infrastructure and services between communities were examined but not found to be strongly linked to community health; however there is some evidence to indicate that the level of participation in cultural activities is linked to community health. Promoting and increasing levels of community health in the study region was shown to be linked to increased opportunities for education, local governance and control over community and regional affairs, economic development that strengthens the traditional economy, healing and treatment for individuals, and recreation opportunities that promote personal development. Implications for planning in the study region were examined. Collaborative planning theory was used as a basis. The recommendations for planning in the study region were: recognizing the historical and cultural connections with the land, integrating the hinterland and the town lands in community design, designing to support social networks, local control over the planning process, and planning to enhance opportunities in northern communities. Explicitly considering community health in planning policy holds some promise for dealing with the complex issues surrounding land use in the north in particular in providing a measure emphasizes the needs of the local communities.