Ed. note: Field Notes frequent contributor Alicia Clarke checked out the Arctic Spring Festival last weekend and offered this snapshot of the event.
Indigenous communities in the Arctic are facing a lot of pressure. The region is warming twice as fast as other parts of the world, with significant impacts to the Arctic ecosystem. To subsistence communities that primarily hunt, fish, and gather their food, these changes are significant. Loss of sea ice is also opening the Arctic to other interests such as shipping, tourism, and natural resource extraction. How members of these communities respond and adapt to these changes is the focus of Purdue University environmental anthropologist Laura Zanotti‘s research.
Through the project, Collaborative Research: Gender, Environment, and Change: Exploring Shifting Roles in an Inupiat Community, Zanotti and her colleagues are working closely with community members in Barrow to interview women and men in Barrow, Alaska about how they are navigating environmental, political and economic changes in the 21st century. The National Science Foundation-funded project got off the ground last summer, with Zanotti and her team conducting the first round of interviews.
This month, Zanotti talks with Field Notes about the questions she’s exploring with this project and how the indigenous community in Barrow is playing a key role.
Field Notes (FN): Why are indigenous communities—and particularly female members—vulnerable to environmental and political changes?
Laura Zanotti (LZ): This is an interesting question, and one that we are exploring through a local perspective. There are reports from the United Nations and other organizations that point to both historical and colonial violence enacted on indigenous communities. This has reverberated in to the present.
It’s important to point out that we are working with community members to understand the perception of that label [vulnerable] and ways they adopt, or not, to being described by these terms.
FN: What are some of the challenges that are affecting indigenous communities the most today?
LZ: Community members have identified long-term interactions with “outsiders” that have not always been beneficial. There’s also the historical injustice, lack of respect and dignity associated with these interactions. These are issues we have come across a lot, especially in the context of doing research. We are very sensitive to the role researchers have played in this and how legacies may persist.
Other challenges, as you might imagine, are some of these large-scale global issues, like climate change, as well as the positive and negative impacts of economic development. People point to these issues as bringing new challenges, as well as opportunities to grow and move forward.
FN: What do you hope to learn as you embark on this body of research?
LZ: We have designed a collaborative approach for looking at the ways in which women, men and the community are facing different types of change in their livelihoods. We are especially interested in changes that happened in the past 30 years.
We are working with indigenous women and men in Barrow to learn about their life histories and the challenges and opportunities they face. We also want to work with both women and men to discuss involvement in subsistence practices.
FN: This is a two-part question. First, how do you build the relationships with the community members in Barrow to get the answers to your questions and, second, what types of data are you collecting?
LZ: Building trust with communities and people that you are meeting for the first time is a long-term process. My co-principal investigator, Courtney Carothers, and myself are really dedicated to working in Alaska for the long term. We also very much want to be a part of a narrative that creates positive change and highlights some of the stories the community wants to tell that may otherwise be invisible to most.
The project is designed to be participatory. By that I mean we’ve been working along side project advisors who are community elders and leaders. They help us design interviews that, for example, get answers to our research questions in ways that are sensitive to community needs and meet research standards.
We spend lots of time—as much as possible—in Barrow talking with people, interviewing people and just being in the community for different important events.
FN: It sounds like you will have lots of interesting audio and visual records when this study is complete. How to you plan to share this wealth of information with the communities you work with and others?
LZ: One idea is to create an interactive eBook that might be used in workshops, in high school classrooms or in other ways. This would integrate the rich audio and visual material in a way that’s not only accessible now, but also accessible to future generations. We are partnering with the Iñupiat Heritage Center in Barrow to archive audio records, if participants agree to that. We are also bouncing some of our ideas off of our project advisors.
In terms of the scientific community, we are exploring how we can design collaborative community projects that are meaningful and relevant. We anticipate that we will be writing some of this up in ways that other researchers can benefit from learning about our methodologies.
FN: Why is documenting the challenges faced by indigenous communities, as well as their responses to those challenges, important?
LZ: This is a great question, and certainly an important one. From my own perspective, indigenous people in North America are still somewhat invisible in our history books and are still negatively stereotyped by the media and elsewhere. Projects like this one can really help with putting a face on some of these larger global problems in a very local, place-based way. It will also challenge the dominant historical narrative about indigenous people.
To learn more about Lauren Zanotti and her work to understand gender, environment and change, visit: http://www.womenandstrength.com/. —Alicia Clarke
In 1915, American anthropologist Robert Lowie declared, “I cannot attach to oral traditions any historical value whatsoever under any conditions.” Some colleagues, such as Franz Boas disagreed, and debate has continued since then about the “historicity” of oral tradition.
These days, Dr. Aron Crowell, Alaska Director of the Smithsonian Arctic Studies Center, is contributing to the debate with his own anthropological findings from a research project in Alaska that’s searching for (and finding) archaeological sites using oral history as a guide.
Specifically, Crowell and a team of researchers supported by the Yakutat Tlingit Tribe, the Sealaska Heritage Institute, Sealaska Corporation, the U.S. Forest Service, and the National Park Service are partnering on research into the unique history of the Yakutat people and their relationship to one of Alaska’s richest ecosystems.
In this multifaceted project, archaeologists are uncovering dwellings, artifacts, and animal bones at sealing camps and village sites, revealing ancestral lifeways; elders are recording place names and centuries-old oral traditions; geologists are tracking the glaciers’ movements through time; and hunters are sharing knowledge about seals and seal hunting, from past to present. Yakutat students are working with the scientists, to help rediscover the traces of their grandparents’ way of life on the land.
“My very strong interest is connecting the oral traditions to geological and archaeological research,” says Crowell, “It is fascinating to take two very different forms and discover where they intersect.”
In this case, that discovery is centered in Yakutat Bay, Alaska, where glacial recession after A.D. 1100 opened the fiord for colonization by harbor seals and for successive waves of Sugpiaq, Eyak, Ahtna, and Tlingit settlement.
According to the project’s Facebook page, the project was inspired by George Ramos Sr., L’uknax.adí Tlingit clan elder and traditional scholar, who learned the names and locations of ancestral sealing camps during his training as a young hunter. In his words and those of other Yakutat elders, the seals are the glacier’s gift to the people, and have sustained their way of life for centuries. The stories, which have persisted for generations, offer unprecedented insight into the locations and activities of ancient people, information that can aid archaeologists in their searches.
It isn’t just tribal stories helping archaeologists discover historic sites, says Crowell. Modern archaeologists are uncovering information that broadens and adds context to the oral history.
“There’s no calendrical dating within the oral history,” he says. “Archaeology allows scientists to put dates on stories.”
The potential here, he says is “to see a bit more clearly some big events and processes in indigenous history. This will help us understand the meaning of those events and who exactly was involved.”
It’s an enormous undertaking that’s sent Crowell and his team out into the field every summer from 2011 to 2014 In the course of their research, the team has uncovered settlements, conducted interviews in the Native village of Yakutat, , and more.
It also takes place in what Crowell describes as “the most spectacular setting I have ever seen in the North.” Giant glaciers come in at the head of Yakutat Bay and tower nearly 250 feet above the water (all told, the glaciers measure roughly 600 feet, from the sea’s floor to their top). Enormous peaks surround the bay. The landscape is treeless and covered in brush. A seal rookery supports about 2,000 of the animals, and Crowell estimates that in the heyday there were 30 times that many.
As for the project’s implications, well, they’re big, says Crowell.
“Because Arctic and Subarctic oral traditions have been extensively recorded, and in many cases are retained today by living speakers, there is great potential for this approach in Greenland, Canada (including the Northwest Coast), Alaska, and northeastern Russia,” he says. “The Tlingit area including Yakutat Bay and Glacier Bay may be especially good because oral traditions are actively maintained and taught, and are closely linked to clan identity, history, land, resources, and art.”
More, the project brings a host of benefits to indigenous communities, including education and inspiration for students, the development of a place-based science curriculum, and a renewed acknowledgement of the importance of subsistence at Yakutat, says Crowell.
“The recent decline of the seal population is of great concern and our archaeological data will help to show biological and population trends over time,” he says. “It is also possible that the detailed documentation of historic sites and land use patterns that come out of these data may be helpful in reestablishing Alaska Native ownership of traditional sites, as occurred under the Alaska Native Claims Settlement Act.”
Earlier this summer, Lynn Foshee Reed, organizer of Arctic Science Education Week, sent us a recap of the Joint Science Education Project (JSEP) 2014. In it, she wrote, “It is rare that high school students and teachers from multiple nations are provided with the opportunity to live and learn together. Even more uncommon is when they are given the chance to work alongside scientists and other experts in hands-on field experiences. To do so in the Arctic, in Greenland, demonstrates that the Joint Science Education Project is truly an extraordinary educational gem.”
We couldn’t have said it better ourselves.
For those of you who don’t know, JSEP brings select American high school students to Greenland for a collaborative diplomatic effort to team with Danish and Greenlandic students and researchers to learn about Arctic science. Admission is by application, and applications for the 2015 year will be due at the end of January 2015. Check back on the official JSEP website for application info.
In the meantime, here’s a glimpse of what JSEP students experience.
At first blush, there is not a lot in common between eider ducks and increased oil production off the coast of Alaska’s Chukchi Sea. But look a little deeper—or follow the work of Professor James Lovvorn of Southern Illinois University and colleagues Henry Huntington (Huntington Consulting) and Tuula Hollmen (University of Alaska, Fairbanks)—and you’ll discover that the researchers’ work on water birds is a key component in engaging Native communities in northern Alaska that may be affected by oil development.
Lovvorn and colleagues recently launched the first year of a four-year, NSF-funded project to model habitat requirements and map viable prey densities for the formerly hunted (now threatened) spectacled eider, and a commonly hunted species, king eider, in the Chukchi nearshore zone. They’ll amend their maps with traditional ecological knowledge on conditions and areas where indigenous people hunt for king eiders, and use the information to predict which hunting areas could be impacted by oil production, specifically by potential oil spills from pipelines, during the eider migration.
The researchers plan to present this information in workshops in local villages, and to assess methods for evaluating the potential risks of proposed oil pipeline routes, relative to cash benefits of local construction projects. The project is funded by the National Science Foundation.
The goal, says Lovvorn, is to test ways for local communities to assess different options for protecting their historic subsistence lifestyle by empowering them with data and other information. The situation in the Chukchi is, he adds, complex.
In 1971, the Alaska National Interest Lands Conservation Act mandated the federal government to protect subsistence activities in Alaska. Since then there has been much debate and legal controversy over who qualifies as a subsistence hunter. At present, all resident Alaskans—Native or non-Native, urban or rural—have a right to hunt for subsistence. However, it is often unclear to what extent subsistence hunting trumps other national interests, and what activities actually threaten subsistence hunting in a given case. Decisions can be highly political and are sometimes settled through litigation.
Lack of unanimous agreement
Individuals disagree within communities about the benefits of allowing oil production. In some communities, oil development has brought an influx of money that’s ameliorated the health care, transportation, and schools. Conversely, many people fear the long-term environmental impacts of oil development and urge minimal development. Spread between those two extremes is a range of preferences.
“There’s a general misconception that there’s a single ‘Native perspective,’ but that oversimplifies the diversity of views,” says Lovvorn.
“There is a long history of decisions being made without adequate input from local indigenous people,” says Lovvorn. “Inevitably, this leads to misunderstanding and troublesome policies. So how can communities balance viewpoints and work toward positive and sustainable goals for everyone?”
Consensus and legal standing
Consensus building is often difficult. In Native communities there’s a strong tradition of respect for the perspectives of the elders, but this is being overwhelmed by rapid change. Recognizing that consensus may not be possible, Lovvorn still aims to help the locals improve their communication so they can present a more unified viewpoint to decision makers regarding their stance on oil development.
Before that, though, he and others must work to earn the trust of local communities.
He also hopes to demystify the labyrinth of legalese governing the development. Different federal agencies hold jurisdiction in different places—offshore exploration falls under federal jurisdiction; land near villages belongs to the local communities, but villages are separated by large stretches of land controlled by the Bureau of Land Management (BLM). Construction on Native land is subject to local restrictions, but the local people would have no formal control over a pipeline passing through federal land unless they successfully argue that the government is not fulfilling its legal mandate to protect subsistence hunting, says Lovvorn.
“Even for legislators back in Washington, DC who would like to consider Native interests, if there is no clear and well-supported documentation of the Native consensus it is hard for them to know what to do,” he says. “The Native communities are in fact often divided on issues of development versus possible threats to subsistence hunting. Our project is intended to test a method (structured decision-making) for reaching consensus within the local communities, and for documenting that consensus and the process for achieving it.”
Specifically, the researchers intend to move beyond a situation where an outsider flies in, holds a town meeting for one night to get comments, and then leaves without further discussion, deliberation, or formal documentation of those processes.
“If the procedure we are testing proves useful, we hope that it will help the local communities present a more representative, well-documented position for use in federal policy decisions,” says Lovvorn.
He adds: “We are trying to test tools for documenting local perspectives while working through differing opinions, interpreting scientific information, and then deciding what to do. However, we are still outsiders. The decision-making of course rests with them.”
North Slope communities have a long history, both economic and cultural, based on subsistence hunting. For thousands of years the focus of hunting along the Chukchi coast has been whaling. Whales provide a large source of meat for the community, but other animals and birds are important, too. Pipelines connecting offshore oilrigs to onshore facilities could impact feeding grounds and migratory routes. Spills would undoubtedly be difficult to monitor and clean up because of limited infrastructure and often challenging weather conditions. The impacts on local animals and the peoples that hunt them could be severe.
“In the Iñupiat culture there is a tradition of sharing whale meat with the entire community, particularly with those unable to fend for themselves. There is a social system built around the hunt and the tradition of feeding everyone. In the 1960s, outside observers thought that subsistence hunting would phase out with technological improvements, but the opposite is true because now people can buy boats, gas, guns, and other equipment that helps them hunt more effectively. They take hunting very seriously. Food that is flown in is expensive, so a large fraction of their needs is met through subsistence hunting. Protecting this way of life is important,” says Lovvorn. “It is imperative.”
Marine mammals and eiders in the Chukchi Sea
Alaska’s remote northern coast lies on the Chukchi Sea migration corridor, an important region for marine mammal and bird species that move between the Arctic Ocean and lower latitude oceans each year. Mammals, particularly whales, form the bulk of the subsistence diet. In general, the local population eats far more meat from mammals than from migratory birds, but these animals use the same pathways that are constrained by ice conditions.
King eiders spend winters in marine waters near coastlines in the Gulf of Alaska or Russia. In the summer they make their way to the Chukchi and Beaufort Sea coasts where they nest in low, wet tundra. During migration through the Chukchi Sea, these birds eat mainly clams, which they dive for offshore at 10 to 40 meters depth.
Role of habitat mapping
During spring migration through the Chukchi Sea, the eiders must find areas of adequate prey density that they can access through the ice. A large part of this project involves mapping prey densities and then evaluating (based on satellite data on ice cover) how often good feeding areas are accessible. Sampling of prey organisms from ships, computer modeling of food requirements, and 13 years of ice data from satellites are being used for this evaluation.
“Patterns of ice cover are highly variable, and we want to know if the birds can have trouble finding good places to feed,” says Lovvorn. They probably require a range of feeding areas distributed along the migration corridor. This is likely true of many marine birds and mammals because they all follow open leads between landfast ice which is frozen to the ocean bottom in the winter, and pack ice which moves with changes in wind and currents.”
Understanding eider migration patterns and needs in more detail will be important for Chukchi coast communities that want to assist in policy making down the road.
Special occasion birds
Eiders are not a major part of the subsistence diet from a biomass perspective, but often provide fresh meat in spring before other animals are around. Eiders are often reserved for special occasions like Thanksgiving, Christmas and traditional feasts. Areas critical to birds may or may not be the same areas critical for hunting other animals.
If Lovvorn’s group can determine important areas for these birds, they may be helping other animals, too, in terms of choosing areas less important for where oil development occurs. Offshore exploration is anticipated with talk of pipelines crossing shallow feeding grounds for eiders and other birds and animals. A couple of eider species are threatened, so the impact of oil infrastructure must be considered before development can occur. —Marcy Davis
The GrIT operations team is back in Thule! After dealing with mechanical issues, traveling many hundreds of miles, and experiencing a range of weather, the team reached Thule this week, reports GrIT Project Manager Geoff Phillips in his status update, excerpted below.
On Tuesday, June 3, the Greenland Inland Traverse (GrIT) team landed in Thule. Despite all the challenges they faced along the way, they were in great spirits.
The team left the sleds in the frozen lake area at the ice edge near the transition, where the snow is rapidly melting. After assessing the loads, the team is optimistic that they can be packaged up and stored in proper places prior to the rocks starting to poke through the snow layers.
The Arctic Research Support and Logistics Program within the National Science Foundation’s Division of Polar Programs funds the Greenland Inland Traverse. CH2M HILL Polar Services and Cold Regions Research and Engineering Laboratories are working together with the NSF to develop the traverse infrastructure and route to Summit Station. The 2014 spring traverse delivered fuel and cargo to Summit Station, continued efforts to optimize mobility, and provided a research platform for Zoe Courville’s NSF-funded scientific research project.
The North Atlantic island nation of Iceland is home to both large and small-scale fisheries; among them are cod, capelin and herring fisheries. Strong fisheries coupled with the country’s unique fisheries management system makes it a perfect place to explore questions of how people, their families, interests and finances are all connected to fishing and management strategies. These questions are driving the ethnographic research of University of Alaska Fairbanks doctorate researcher Catherine Chambers. She’s lived in Iceland for the past six years and is leading a National Science Foundation-funded project titled, Doctoral Dissertation Improvement Grant: Fishing livelihoods and fisheries management in Northwest Iceland, to examine these questions and their broader implications.
This month Catherine Chambers discusses her doctorate project, how she collected data and some initial findings with Field Notes.
Field Notes (FN): Where did the idea to study fishing livelihoods and fisheries management in Iceland come from?
Catherine Chambers: My husband and I came to Iceland in 2008 right at the time of the global financial crisis, which, as you might know, impacted Iceland first and very significantly. I became really interested in how people talk about the link between economic crises and other crises or changes, like climate change. There’s such a strong link between fisheries and economics, of course. For me it was really interesting to watch the discourse develop—OK, we have this really big financial shock, what does that mean for how we access our fish? Can we still make money off of our fish? So I began this self-led exploration in to all these issues through the Marine Ecosystem Sustainability in the Arctic and Subarctic program at University of Alaska Fairbanks.
FN: What do you hope to learn from this project?
CC: The main question I have centers around the connection between how we design our fisheries management systems and what that means for the individuals engaged in fishing. We know from around the world there are so many really intense cultural connections to fishing. Fishing is a way to make money, but it’s much more than that in many places. So my big question is what does a sustainable fisheries management systems look like – sustainable both ecologically and socially.
FN: What makes Iceland so well suited for this type of research?
CC: In Iceland almost all of the fisheries are run under one management system, which is a quota system. That means that the right to fish is a tradable commodity. So you own the right to fish and you pay for that right. The reason that it’s interesting to look at fisheries management in Iceland is because when you have something like people needing to pay to enter a limited fishery, it brings up questions about equity, who has the money to participate, and the fairness of the system.
FN: What roles do fishing and fisheries play in Icelandic culture and modern day society?
CC: Icelanders have always had a strong relationship with the sea, which has changed over time. The Vikings that came from Norway were farmers. Fishing was a way to feed their families in the winter months. It wasn’t until the 1700 or 1800s that people from other countries came in significant numbers to access the rich fishing grounds here. Then in the 1800s and 1900s, as fishing technology improved, Iceland as a nation really started to get in to fisheries. When Iceland became an independent nation in the 1940s, fishing really became a nation-building activity because of the high export value of fish, especially cod. Fishing here has a very different history than a lot of other places where marine resources have been taken in large quantities for daily sustenance and direct consumption. It’s always been tied in with money and commerce, but that doesn’t mean it’s more or less culturally important.
FN: How did you collect data?
CC: I primarily used methods from social sciences, especially anthropology, because I’m very interested in the cultural connections to fishing and fishing livelihoods. I use a mix of quantitative and qualitative methods. The qualitative methods are interviews. I go out on fishing boats to observe and help out, I meet up with fishermen in cafes and sometimes go to home visits and I have a list of questions to make the interview a bit more standardized. But I can deviate from those questions a little if something interesting comes up, and that makes it a little more qualitative than quantitative. I then transcribe those interviews and put them in to a coding software. It’s kind of like how people tag photos on Facebook. For example, you can tag every time someone is talking about salmon in the interviews. This lets you process the data in a way that is meaningful and lets you see how people are thinking about issues and what is important to them.
After I analyze the qualitative interview data, I then take the major themes, issues and questions that come up and I turn them in to survey questions. Last summer I finished a big, nationwide survey of Icelandic fishermen. We surveyed people by mail and also collected demographic data. The survey let me quantitatively test some of the questions that came up in the interviews to see if a broader survey sample size of people still agrees with that.
Iceland is pretty small, but it was great to take a whole sample frame of a nation. That’s really hard to do in the U.S. and maybe other countries. We sent the survey out to 500 people. There are approximately 1,200 small-scale fishing boats. So to survey a little less than half is pretty amazing. And the response was great.
FN: Are there any initial findings you can share with Field Notes readers?
CC: In the survey there was a section that examined job satisfaction. Understanding how people like their jobs is an important link in fisheries management. It’s really interesting because the way people respond to these questions lets you know what’s going on in the fishery.
I have a lot of responses about people enjoying being their own boss, not wanting to work in an office, and therefore people want fisheries to be sustainable. People also want to be involved in fisheries management to ensure they and future generations still have a job as a fisher. So you begin to see the underlying reasons of why people are fishing.
FN: What’s next?
CC: My next steps are to take the results, once they are ready, back out in to the community. My plan is to go around the country and do some talks in communities to show people what it is that I found. I want to invite fishermen to the talks to show the research they participated in is meaningful. I want to also invite community leaders and decision makers so they can see the results. For more information of Catherine Chambers’ research, visit: https://sites.google.com/site/catchambers/. Also check out a short video Chambers produced about her research titled Fishing livelihoods & fisheries management in North Iceland visit, at http://vimeo.com/40929092. —Alicia Clarke
A new interdisciplinary collaborative network funded by the National Science Foundation has put out a call for membership. The network, known as Arctic Frontiers of Sustainability (Arctic-FROST), is part of the Sustainability, Science, Engineering, and Education for Sustainibility (SEES) network.
Arctic-FROST is an international interdisciplinary collaborative network and platform for research exchange, developing interdisciplinary synthesis, and international research about Arctic and sub-Arctic sustainability.
The network teams together environmental and social scientists, local educators, and community members to enable and mobilize research on sustainable Arctic development. The research is specifically aimed at improving health, human development, and the well-being of Arctic communities while conserving ecosystem structures, functions, and resources under changing climate conditions. The network is based at the Arctic Social and Environmental Systems Research Laboratory at the University of Northern Iowa under the direction of Andre Petrov.
Over the next five years Arctic-FROST will fund multiple meetings and workshops on various subjects pertaining to sustainability and sustainable development in the Arctic. Community members with academic or practical interests in these areas are invited to become Arctic-FROST members. Arctic-FROST membership is free and open for all. Membership benefits include:
- Opportunity to connect with network researchers and receive interdisciplinary and international collaboration experience;
- Eligibility for funding to participate in Arctic-FROST activities and events;
- Access to special workshops and funding for early career scholars;
- Ability to receive members-only research updates, announcements, teaching materials, calls for papers and proposals, and other network-related information;
- and Priority in submission of papers and abstracts for Arctic-FROST sponsored publications and activities.
For further information and to register, go to: http://www.uni.edu/arctic/frost.
For questions, contact: Andrey Petrov, firstname.lastname@example.org
There’s no question that life is different in the Alaskan bush. Challenging as the remoteness, weather conditions, and life in a Native community may be, these are often the qualities that initially draw teachers to rural Alaska. Unfortunately, these same qualities often send them packing for urban centers.
Most of Alaska’s rural communities are accessible only by airplane or boat. Secluded locations coupled with long winter nights, cold temperatures, and limited housing often lead to feelings of isolation. Relatively low pay and high living costs are also contributing factors to high turnover rates and teacher shortages.
In a three-year study funded by the National Science Foundation, Ute Kaden and her research team (University of Alaska, Fairbanks) are looking at how to keep effective teachers in rural Alaska and throughout the circumpolar north.
During the study, which launched in August, 2013, current teachers, as well as those who have left their post already after two years or less, will be surveyed and interviewed about their training and experiences. NSF has already developed several publications with tips about teaching and doing research in indigenous communities. Kaden’s team includes Native researchers who will conduct focus groups and interviews with Elders, school board, and Tribal Council members.
“We really hope to establish and develop good relationships with rural Alaskan communities. This requires a certain protocol consistent with tribal customs,” Kaden explains. “We want to engage people who will talk honestly and openly about the issues facing the rural education system and this requires trust and respect for the tribal system. Understandably, there is some skepticism about Western education given the oppressive past, current inconsistencies, and high teacher turnover rates which is reflected in low academic student achievement.”
Reality versus fantasy
“They come for various reasons – Alaskan adventure, a first employment opportunity, or perhaps they lost a job and this is a fresh start. Most have never visited Alaska before and are either at the very start or very end of their career. We don’t see a lot of people from the middle,” explains Kaden.
Living and working in rural Alaska often proves more difficult and less romantic than teachers initially thought, says Kaden. Consequently, many teachers leave after a very short time. “We see an incredible annual turnover rate in rural areas each year related to the overall harshness of working in the northern part of the country,” Kaden explains. “We need to better understand why in order to improve the education system in rural Alaska and around the circum-Arctic.”
One issue for many teachers is the lack of preparedness for living in a culture so completely different from their own. In rural Alaska more than 90% of students are Alaskan Natives and each community differs from the next. Teachers are treated as temporary guests, which can make community integration difficult. Teachers must learn a great deal on the fly.
“The infrastructure and cultural aspects in these mostly indigenous villages is very different from where most teachers come from. Consequently, teachers often have difficulty bonding with students and the community,” says Kaden.
Multifaceted job descriptions
In the United States, teachers are usually trained in just one subject area. However, teachers in rural Alaska may be required to teach several grade levels across many subjects. In addition to school obligations teachers are typically responsible for hosting outside activities at the school, which is often used as a community center and may be the only place in town with Internet. Consequently, these teachers have very long work days.
All of the above afore-mentioned factors can contribute to feelings of loneliness and frustration. About 60% of Alaskan teachers leave the Arctic region after only two years. Consequently, students and their communities suffer from the inconsistency and lack of stability.
“Communities want effective teachers who inform parents and students alike. Good student –teacher and community relations are critical. How can we prepare teachers to be effective regardless of their time spent in a community?” says Kaden. “We can’t expect most younger people to spend their whole life in rural Alaska. But, how many years can we expect? Two to three years would be great, but teacher effectiveness is equally important to communities. To do this, we must better prepare teachers for the realities of living and working in rural Alaska so that they have a positive impact regardless of tenure.”
Improved teacher training
Kaden is also working with teachers and communities to incorporate and strengthen a field practicum in which university pre-service teachers, those still working on their qualifications, can be involved in several different rural classrooms prior to pursuing a full-time position. This exposure allows pre-service teachers the opportunity to work alongside effective rural teachers in a Native village. The experience helps prepare teachers for the social and environmental challenges of living and working in rural communities. They learn to better manage student needs and expectations while gaining first-hand knowledge of native communities and how to work with students from different cultural backgrounds through community events and immersion in Native traditions and subsistence lifestyles. Teachers are also offered a university support network, mentoring, and professional development.
“Our research will inform teacher educators, school administrators, and community stakeholders about how to support teachers with pedagogical and cultural training while stressing the need for patience, respect, and flexibility. We want to give them the tools to effectively teach multilevel classes and place-relevant lessons. By collaboratively helping teachers to develop community relationships and incorporate art, culture, and local material into their classrooms, we hope we will enhance the educational experience for both teachers and students,” says Kaden. “Rural education in northern Alaska is different than elsewhere and our research, hopefully, sheds light on these differences as well as the beauty of living and teaching there.” Additional information about the project can be found on the Web: https://sites.google.com/a/alaska.edu/nsf-research/ —Marcy Davis
Head north into the Arctic and you’ll find a self-selected crew of researchers devoting their field seasons to uncovering the mysteries and facts of the region. Look closely and you can’t help but notice these scientists are primarily white and male.
Minorities and Women in Science
But efforts are afoot to diversify the Arctic research community, and at the helm is Linda Hayden, Professor of Computer Science at Elizabeth City State University (ECSU) in Elizabeth City, North Carolina. Fourteen years ago, Hayden spearheaded the effort to recruit and provide opportunities to minorities and women interested in polar science and climate. Today, her efforts have taken on a life of their own.
“The idea is to build collaborations that enhance diversity in polar science and engage those who do not self-identify as future polar scientists. I want students to understand that we need them and their talents and their skill sets to solve challenges in polar research,” says Hayden. “Like other areas of science, polar science greatly benefits from diversity, which balances bias, enlivens problem solving and expands on methods, explanations and approaches. So, any strategy that engages the next generation of polar scientists must actively engage diverse participants, including arctic people, underrepresented minorities and women.
Scientific Opportunities for Underrepresented Undergraduates
ECSU is a “teaching-focused, community-engaged” Minority-Serving Institution in northeastern North Carolina. Located near the Atlantic Ocean, ECSU has long studied marine and coastal environments, especially through remote sensing techniques. In 2002 Hayden founded the Center of Excellence in Remote Sensing Education and Research (CERSER), part of ECSU’s Mathematics and Computer Science Department. As CERSER’s director, Hayden works diligently to provide opportunities for students in STEM fields.
Over the last 14 years the Arctic and Antarctic Research Experience for Undergraduates (AaA-REU) program has evolved with funding from the U.S. Navy, the University of Kansas’ Center for Remote Sensing of the Ice Sheets (CReSIS), with whom ECSU has a long-standing relationship, and the National Science Foundation.
The REU objective is simple: promote professional development of historically underrepresented undergraduate students (African American, Hispanic Americans, Native Americans, Pacific Islanders, and women) through facilitating their participation in polar, ocean and marine science research.
Drawing from Personal Experience
“I think that in my role as an African American woman that it’s important that these opportunities are made available at least to the groups within my reach. Even if they know they are available they don’t see themselves as being participants. Sometimes, however, just helping them understand that opportunities are available is all it takes,” Hayden said in an interview with the Renaissance Computing Center, UNC Chapel Hill.
Admission by Application
Each year Hayden and faculty mentors select twenty-five undergraduate students. This includes 20 REU students and 5 pre-service teachers in the Research Experience for Teachers (RET) component. Ultimately, Hayden hopes to build a group from a wide range of disciplines and backgrounds.
Typically, applicants are majors in mathematics, computer science, geosciences, biology, and physics. Students are required to have completed thirty hours of coursework by the start of the program and have a GPA of 3.0 or higher. Any student who meets these criteria is eligible for the program, but students who are in groups traditionally underrepresented in science are highly encouraged to apply. Each participant receives a stipend of $3600, travel costs, on-campus room and board and college credit, depending on the school through which they are partnered.
The Association of Computer and Information Science Engineering Departments at Minority institutions (ADMI), a professional organization, will select and support an additional 8-10 REU students. During the 8-week summer internship (late May-late July) participants will work in teams of 2-5 with a faculty mentor.
Several teams will be based in Elizabeth City. Others who work with faculty at a partnering institution spend a week or two at the institution to become familiar with their project and develop a relationship with their team. Partnering institutions for 2014 include: University of Kansas, Indiana University, Pennsylvania State University, and the University of Washington. Students engage daily with mentors and their team. Seminars, lunch meetings, and social functions promote sharing and bonding.
Projects fall within one of four broad areas including cyberinfrastructure, wherein students work with faculty to develop innovative techniques for sharing data with polar scientists, Arctic and Antarctic science, and STEM education. Projects depend on the expertise of the faculty. Students must present a final oral presentation, poster, or paper at summer’s end.
Student-mentor relationships continue after the program with on-line mentoring and follow-up during the academic year. Post internship opportunities may include participation in national conferences, field work in the Polar Regions, and graduate studies.
“One thing that makes this REU unique is that we have a 2-tier system. Students can enter the program at the start of their freshman year and build a polar science vocabulary while learning about climate change science through their research project. Some do three years and then usually go on to grad school at that point. Some students return to mentor other students in following years,” Hayden says.
Life Changing Experience
One such student, Jerome Mitchell, now a graduate student at Indiana University who completed the program in 2006, cites his experience as a turning point in his career.
“Conducting quality research as an undergraduate is a privilege, but many are unable to participate in [these] rich experiences. My experiences as an undergraduate provided a gateway to conducting research in Antarctica and have provided a solid foundation for thinking independently and writing technical literature, which has been a necessity for me to thrive in a Ph.D. program. I partially owe my successes as a student researcher to undergraduate research programs, and I highly recommend [them]!”
To date, the REU has been increasingly successful. About half of participants are women and three-quarters minorities. Hayden hopes project funding will continue. —Marcy Davis
For more information about the REU or to become a faculty mentor visit http://nia.ecsu.edu/
To apply submit an application, current transcript, resume, a one page statement of goals, and one letter of recommendation by April 23, 2014, to:
Dr. Linda Hayden
Campus Box 672 ECSU
1704 Weeksville Road
Elizabeth City, NC 27909