Dr. Erica Oberndorfer

Previous Post-doctoral Fellow 
Dr. Erica OberndorferLabrador Institute of Memorial University

Photo credit: Henry Jacque     

Project Page: Makkovik People and Plants                                                                                  


Ph.D, Geography, Carleton University, 2016
Dissertation: The shared stories of people and plants: Cultural and ecological relationships between people and plants in Makkovik, Labrador

M.Sc., Biology, Saint Mary’s University, 2006
Thesis: Plant, macrolichen and moss community structure and species richness in the coastal barrens of Nova Scotia

(Hons). B.A. & Sci., McMaster University, 2000

Research interests:

I have a life-long interest in and love for plants. My earlier education and work has focused on the ecology of plant communities, and the distribution of plants in eastern Canada. Gradually, I have come to appreciate the complex relationships between people and plants, and the way that we shape each other’s lives.

Much of my current work is with plant mentors in Makkovik, learning about the cultural importance of plants to Makkovimiut. Our work focuses on individual plants, but also on the importance of understanding “plants in practice” – how plants support a larger web of cultural practices, which in turn support plants.

Through research in plant ecology, we have also learned a great deal about the role of people in shaping plant communities and soils at family places and fishing places near Makkovik. Plants and soils are the ecological footprints of people in the landscape, and are a living reminder of the Inuit Land Use and Occupancy Study (1977) assertion that “Our footprints are everywhere”. Northern landscapes are deeply cultural, and it is important to understand the contributions of both biological processes and cultural practices to their biodiversity.

My focus as a Labrador Institute Post-doctoral fellow is the development of the Makkovik Plant Book, which is a community priority stemming from our ongoing work, and is supported through the Tradition & Transition partnership between Memorial University and Nunatsiavut Government. I also continue to work on the genealogy of rhubarbs in Labrador, to better understand how this beloved plant is intertwined with the travels and connections of families.

I believe multi-disciplinary approaches to learning help us more carefully consider relationships in the world around us. As a non-Indigenous learner, I try to look to Indigenous methodologies for guidance on how to keep relationships and reciprocity at the heart of research. I am grateful to the many people and plants whose knowledge enriches my learning.

Selected recent publications and presentations:

Oberndorfer, E., Winters, N., Gear, C., Broomfield, T., Ljubicic, L., & Lundholm, J. (2017). Plants in a “sea of relationships”: Networks of plants and fishing in Makkovik, Nunatsiavut (Labrador, Canada). Journal of Ethnobiology, 37(3):457-477.

Oberndorfer, E. (2017). Plant Harvesting and Sharing: Traditions in Labrador. Hualapai Native Food Symposium, Hualapai Reservation, Peach Springs, AZ 2-5 Nov.

Oberndorfer, E. (2017). Makkovik Plant Book update. Makkovik Elders’ Dinner presentation, 19 Oct.

Oberndorfer, E., Dyson, C. M. (2017). Plant Treasure Hunt Youth Program. Makkovik Trout Fest, 11 Aug.

Oberndorfer, E. (2017). Rhubarbs in Makkovik. Makkovik Community Hall presentation, 10 Aug.

Oberndorfer, E. (2017). Plants teach: Cultural and ecological lessons of past and present. Invited outdoor lecture for Inuit Bachelor of Education Class, 27 Jun.

Oberndorfer, E., Broomfield, T., Lundholm, J., Gear, C., & Ljubicic. G. (2017). Cultural footprints in northern landscapes: People-plant relationships in Makkovik, Nunatsiavut (Labrador, Canada). 9th International Congress on Arctic Social Sciences, Umea, 8 Jun.

Smith, T., & Oberndorfer, E. (2017). “What our ancestors planted, it’s good to bring here”: Retracing the shared travels of rhubarb and Inuit in Labrador. The 40th Annual Conference of the Society of Ethnobiology, Montreal, 12 May.

Oberndorfer, E. (2017). What the Blazes?! A people’s history of fire in Labrador. The 40th Annual Conference of the Society of Ethnobiology, Montreal, 11 May.

Oberndorfer, E., Broomfield, T., Gear, C., Ljubicic, G, Lundholm, J, & Smith, T. (2017). People and plants teach: Relationships between people, plants, culture, and ecology in Makkovik. Labrador Research Forum, Labrador Institute, Happy Valley-Goose Bay, 2 May.

Oberndorfer, E. (2017). Relationships between cultural practices and biodiversity in Nunatsiavut. Approaches to Understanding Arctic Biodiversity, Arctic Biodiversity Symposium, Canadian Museum of Nature, Ottawa, 27 Jan.

Oberndorfer, E., Broomfield, T., Gear, C., Lundholm, J., and G. Ljubicic. (2016). The Big but Not Empty Land: Ecological footprints of fishing practices near the Inuit Community of Makkovik (Nunatsiavut, Canada). The 39th Annual Conference of the Society of Ethnobiology, Tucson, 16-19 Mar.


Barbara Lawrence Award, Society of Ethnobiology (2017)

Graduate Research and Innovative Thinking (GRIT) Award, Carleton University (2015)

Canadian Northern Studies Trust, Canadian Polar Commission Scholarship (2014)

Torrance Research Scholarship in Geography and Environmental Studies, Carleton University (2013)

Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council Joseph-Armand Bombardier Doctoral Scholarship (2012)

Carleton University Alumnus Graduate Scholarship in Geography and Environmental Studies (2011)


Happy Valley-Goose Bay Ground Search and Rescue Team (2012-present)

Canadian Wildlife Service breeding bird survey (2011-present)


Labrador Institute

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Tel: (709) 864-8000