Western Arctic Research Centre Ethnobotany Garden

Highlighting the plants of the Mackenzie Delta and their traditional uses


In June 2017 ARI will be releasing a web companion to the Western Artic Research Centre Ethnobotany Garden. Please check back in June for more information!


About the Garden 

The goal of this garden is to highlight the traditional uses of plants found in the Mackenzie Delta region. Using traditional knowledge from both the Inuvialuit and Gwich’in, we see that the plants are not just a part of the scenery: they are food, fuel, tools, medicine, and more.  They are critical to life on the land.  

Wild Rose

What is Ethnobotany?

Ethnobotany is the study of the traditional knowledge and customs of a people concerning plants and their uses. In this garden you will find local traditional knowledge from the Gwich’in and Inuvialuit perspectives regarding plants which span the traditional territories of both groups, and which helped them survive for millennia. 

The Plants and their Habitats 

Inuvik is located on the east branch of the Mackenzie Delta, just south of the treeline. As such, there are a variety of conditions and habitats to be found in the region. Here you will see plants from wet spruce forests, shrubby tundra, dry birch stands, and rocky outcrops. This garden is not meant to be a comprehensive collection of local species, but a representation of those plants which are the most common and important to the people of this area.  

The Languages 

Plant names are provided in English, French, and Latin, as well as in local indigenous languages: Inuvialuktun, which is spoken by the Inuvialuit, includes three dialects, while the Gwich’in language includes two regional dialects. Since the plants featured in this garden span much of the Inuvialuit and Gwich’in lands, traditional names are listed in all of the regional dialects, noted using the following abbreviations.   

For example, Cloudberry:

Gwich’in: nakàl (G); nakal (T) Inuvialuktun: aqpik (pl. aqpiit) (U, S, K)

Cloudberry (left) and Cranberry (right)

Common Names 

The English names for plants can vary from place to place. For example, the plant which people in the Mackenzie Delta call “cranberry” may be referred to as “lingonberry” in other locations. Some of the plants in the garden have special local names, which are made note of in the displays. 

Northern Adaptations

Plants in the Inuvik region withstand extreme conditions: snow cover and freezing temperatures from October through April, followed by 24-hour sunlight for nearly two months in the summer, when temperatures may exceed 30°C.  As you explore the garden, you will see a variety of adaptations for life in the cold: fine hairs to keep flower buds and other plant tissue insulated, evergreen leaves to allow for photosynthesis before the snow is gone, and more.  

Using the Garden

The garden is meant for everyone, so feel free to explore and learn. Please do not disturb any of the plants. This way others can enjoy the garden, too.  The information provided in this garden is purely educational and should not be used to treat illness.

Labrador Tea 

Further Information 

The Inuvialuit Cultural Resource Centre and Gwich’in Tribal Council Department of Cultural Heritage, in partnership with Aurora Research Institute, have published two books on local ethnobotany: 

  • Gwich'in Ethnobotany: Plants used by the Gwich'in for food, medicine, shelter and tools, by Alestine Andre and Alan Fehr, 2002.
  • Inuvialuit Nautchiangit: relationships between people and plants, by Inuvialuit elders with Robert W. Bandringa, 2010.

This website is currently under construction, but will soon include information on a variety of local plant species, along with cultural content, sound clips of traditional names, and a full list of references used in this project.

To learn more about these plants first hand, come explore the ethnobotany garden in person. It is located at the Western Arctic Research Centre in Inuvik, NWT. We welcome groups of all ages, and offer customized tours of the space.  For large groups or classes, please call ahead.


Project Partners  

Special thanks to the following project partners: