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30 December 2020 The Canadian Mountain Network: Advancing Innovative, Solutions-Based Research to Inform Decision-Making
Norma Kassi, Murray M. Humphries, Graham McDowell
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The Canadian Mountain Network (CMN) launched in 2019 as a new national research network dedicated to the resilience and health of mountain peoples and places. Supported by complementary training, knowledge mobilization, and networking programs, CMN's research program represents a once-in-a-generation opportunity to identify and address mountain knowledge gaps in Canada. Working with Indigenous and Western ways of knowing, the Network will support decision-making and action in Canada and globally to advance sustainable mountain development. A key element of our strategy is the launch of the landmark Canadian Mountain Assessment, which will address 3 fundamental questions: what do we know, not know, and need to know about Canada's diverse and rapidly changing mountain systems? CMN is honored by the opportunity to join the International Mountain Society and looks forward to building new linkages between Canadian and international mountain research communities.

Mountain systems in Canada

Twenty-four percent, or 2.26 million km2, of Canada's landmass is covered by mountains (Figure 1). These important and influential landscapes—whether described in terms of geology, ecosystem services, or sacred places—are essential to the environmental, economic, social, spiritual, and cultural identity and well-being of Canada's diverse peoples.


Canadian mountain regions according to the “K1” Kapos et al (2000) definition of mountains. EPSG, European Petroleum Survey Group (public coordinate system and datum registry code); LER, Local elevation change. (Map by Jiaao Guo)


While Canada has considerable expertise in mountain systems research, at present it is not coordinated; research collaborations are limited; nonacademics are not consistently involved in its prioritization, design, and implementation; and there are substantial hurdles to its uptake. Furthermore, Indigenous knowledge and research approaches and methodologies have historically been devalued and constrained in an institutional context dominated by Western research approaches. For these reasons, our capacity to comprehensively observe, study, forecast, and adapt to rapidly changing mountain systems remains limited.

The Canadian Mountain Network

The Canadian Mountain Network (CMN) was established in 2019 as a national not-for-profit organization that supports the resilience and health of Canada's mountain peoples and places through research partnerships based on Indigenous and Western ways of knowing that inform decision-making and action.

The CMN is primarily funded by a 5-year grant from the government of Canada's Networks of Centres of Excellence program, which aims to build applied research collaborations among individuals and organizations across Canada and internationally working on a shared strategic theme. Combined with contributions from diverse partners, this funding represents an unparalleled opportunity to position Canada as a global leader in mountain systems research at a time when Canada's mountain systems are undergoing rapid and uncertain change.

The Network's strategy (Box 1) is led by a board of directors and its committees, which include a Research Management Committee and an Indigenous Circle of Advisors. Implementation is delegated to a management team that includes an executive director leading day-to-day operations and 2 co–research directors experienced in bringing together Indigenous and Western ways of knowing and doing in the mountain context. This team supports a much larger community of researchers, trainees, and collaborators across Canada who are engaged in diverse research projects and complementary training, knowledge mobilization, and networking initiatives. Biographies of network participants can be found at

Since its launch in 2019, CMN has supported a wide variety of activities that contribute to the Network's goals and that are led by the organization itself or its partners; for example, 16 large-scale, multiyear research projects across Canada led by both academics and Indigenous organizations, as well as a variety of internships with knowledge-user organizations that provide applied research and professional training opportunities for students. To support public awareness and informed decision-making, CMN has created the Canadian Mountain Podcast, which is available on iTunes and Google Podcasts, to share mountain research stories. The Network has also seeded the Canadian Mountain Assessment (CMA; see the next section) and established a broad knowledge mobilization and education partnership with the Royal Canadian Geographical Society, the publisher of Canadian Geographic magazine.

The Canadian Mountain Assessment

The CMA is a landmark, multiyear initiative to advance understanding of mountain systems across Canada. Informed by the latest assessment approaches and methods that have been applied to other mountain regions internationally (eg the Hindu Kush Himalaya Assessment), the CMA is advancing an innovative, made-in-Canada approach that brings together Indigenous and Western ways of knowing to address 3 fundamental questions: what do we know, not know, and need to know about Canada's diverse and rapidly changing mountain systems? Benefiting from generous support of the CMN and the Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council of Canada, this transdisciplinary initiative is expected to set Canada's mountain research agenda for the coming decade and to support evidence-based decisions for Canada's mountain regions.

The CMA is focused primarily on including insights from peer-reviewed literature and Indigenous knowledge (including narrative accounts/oral traditions), but will also feature insights from select gray literature. Individual assessment chapters will be led by teams of specialists, which will include leading researchers and Indigenous individuals with pertinent expert knowledge. These chapters will be combined into a final assessment report that provides a first-of-its-kind look at the state of knowledge of Canada's mountains, including the relative scope of knowledge across topics and geographies, based on both Western scientific and Indigenous knowledge.

BOX 1: Canadian Mountain Network values, goals, and research priorities


  1. Show mutual respect and positive reciprocity.

  2. Maximize relevance and impact.

  3. Encourage collaboration and innovation.


  1. Enhance understanding of the impacts of rapid environmental, economic, and social change on the resilience of Canada's mountain systems.

  2. Support decision making and actions at multiple levels in ways that are informed by both Indigenous and Western ways of knowing.

  3. Support a diverse and collaborative community of mountain systems researchers, including academic and nonacademic Indigenous trainees, to codesign and codeliver projects with knowledge users.

  4. Share innovative models for partnerships that empower, respect, and, where useful, bring together Indigenous and Western knowledge and research approaches across sectors. Encourage partnerships that empower, respect, and, where useful, bring together Indigenous and Western knowledge and research approaches.

  5. Enhance funding for mountain systems research by improving public and policy maker understanding and appreciation of the importance of mountain systems.

Research priorities

  1. Explore how Indigenous Peoples apply Indigenous culture and knowledge to decision making within mountain systems.

  2. Advance an integrated, continental-scale understanding of the impacts of climate change and human activities on mountain systems.

  3. Identify and develop innovative planning, risk, and governance models applicable to the unique nature of mountain systems.

  4. Explore opportunities to support the viability and resilience of place-based livelihoods that sustain the resilience of mountain systems.

The CMA is playing a critical role in advancing a comprehensive, multiple-evidence-based, and inclusive vision of Canada's mountain systems (see Ermine 2007; Tengö et al 2014). It is also a platform for connecting and mobilizing researchers, practitioners, and Indigenous Peoples with knowledge of Canada's mountains, and is therefore helping to catalyze a community of practice related to mountains in Canada.

Future action

Beginning in spring 2021, CMN will fund the development of a series of place-based knowledge hubs across Canada's mountain systems. These hubs will support a diverse group of people and organizations working together to build meaningful and sustained relationships required for solutions-oriented research. CMN knowledge hubs will advance the role of both Indigenous and Western ways of knowing, while seeking to sustain knowledge partnerships and impacts beyond the Networks of Centres of Excellence funding horizon. Building new linkages within the Canadian mountain research community and with the international community is a top priority. CMN is proud to have joined the International Mountain Society in 2020 and looks forward to working with its members to advance knowledge and disseminate information about mountain research and mountain development around the world.

To learn more please visit, where you can subscribe to our newsletter for Canadian and international mountain research news and opportunities. You can also follow us on Twitter and Instagram (@canmountainnet), Facebook, and LinkedIn for regular updates on network progress and exciting opportunities.


Norma Kassi and Murray M. Humphries are the co–research directors of the Canadian Mountain Network. Graham McDowell is the project leader for the Canadian Mountain Assessment.



Ermine W. 2007. The ethical space of engagement. Indigenous Law Journal 6(1):193–204. Google Scholar


Kapos V, Rhind J, Edwards M, Price MF, Ravilious C . 2000. Developing a map of the world's mountain forests. In : Price MF, Butt N, editors. Forests in Sustainable Mountain Development. IUFRO [International Union of Forest Research Organizations] Research Series 5. Wallingford, United Kingdom: CABI Publishing, pp 4–9. Google Scholar


Tengö M, Brondizio ES, Elmqvist T, Malmer P, Spierenburg M . 2014. Connecting diverse knowledge systems for enhanced ecosystem governance: The multiple evidence base approach. Ambio 43:579–591. Scholar



© 2020 Kassi et al. This open access article is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License ( Please credit the authors and the full source.
Norma Kassi, Murray M. Humphries, and Graham McDowell "The Canadian Mountain Network: Advancing Innovative, Solutions-Based Research to Inform Decision-Making," Mountain Research and Development 40(4), P8-P10, (30 December 2020).
Published: 30 December 2020
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