Documenting Traditional Ecological Knowledge in Northwest Alaska
In Kotzebue, Alaska, the indigenous Qikiktagrugmiut residents developed a study to collect traditional ecological knowledge from tribal members regarding observed environmental changes from the 1950s to 2002. The results detail observed changes in weather, hunting patterns, and snow and ice characteristics; the final report, Documenting Qikiktagrugmiut knowledge of environmental change, serves as a reference point from which to measure further environmental changes and consequences of climate variability in the region.
The Native Village of Kotzebue is located on the Baldwin Peninsula, 30 miles above the Arctic Circle in northwest Alaska. It has a population of roughly 3,000 people known as the indigenous Qikiktagrugmiut. The Qikiktagrugmiut people rely upon the environment to provide food, shelter, and a cultural connection to their surroundings. Recent climatic change is of deep concern to community members as they witness their environment changing around them.
The tribal government of the Qikiktagrugmiut community conducted a study to document the traditional knowledge of environmental change in its elders, documenting observations from the 1950s to 2002. Tribal members provided a unique perspective on recent environmental changes. The entire study was conceived, developed, and conducted by tribal members and tribal employees. Interviewers asked semi-directive questions to engage elders in conversations about environmental change.
Hunters commented on changes in their ability to travel across the land. In the past, summers were typified by high winds and fog along with the break-up of sea ice; winters were typified by extremely low temperatures and high winds. During winter, hunters’ mobility is further defined by the timing of freeze-up, the thickness of newly formed ice, and the timing and magnitude of snow. Recent changes witnessed by the hunters starting in the 1970s include warmer temperatures, less consistency in seasons, extreme temperature swings, and altered precipitation patterns. Also, the game composition has shifted, with more Western Arctic Caribou traveling though the area and the appearance of moose.
Outcomes and Conclusions
Through the community interviews, it became apparent that the Qikiktagrugmiut connection to weather and climate is more intimate than most urbanized cultures. Below freezing conditions mean ideal travel conditions in the Arctic but in most cities, residents cringe at sub-zero temperatures. Thus, when trying to help northern communities to adapt to climate change, it is important to first understand the interconnectedness between their lives and the climate. However, climate change impacts are not necessarily negative. For example, a late freeze-up may create tougher travel conditions but also allow for better hunting.
Feifel, K. (2010). Documenting Traditional Ecological Knowledge in Northwest Alaska [Case study on a project of Kotzebue IRA]. Product of EcoAdapt's State of Adaptation Program. Retrieved from CAKE: http://www.cakex.org/case-studies/documenting-traditional-ecological-kno... (Last updated July 2010)