• Alaska Iñupiaq skin-sewing designs: a portal into cultural identity

      Topkok, Amelia Katherine Ahnaughuq (2018-05)
      What it means to be an Indigenous person in the 21st century is a powerful and moving experience, and how we explore our own identity is up to us. Access to differing worldviews through printed literature and academia give a largely non-Indigenous viewpoint and inaccurate impressions of what it means to be "Iñupiaq." Indigenous education programs throughout the world, however, are emerging and emphasize personal views of individuals, creating a window into their worldview. Recognizing these worldviews validate Indigenous knowledge and allows this knowledge to be brought into arenas previously thought to be only relevant through Western knowledge. We all are human; we learn in many different ways, and through relationships and cultural training, we create and redefine our identity through experiential learning. Revealing skin sewers' perspectives of themselves, their values, and ways they express cultural identity is part of my research. Examining personal family history and other sources exploring Iñupiaq perspectives of women (or men if found) and their skin-sewn garments, demonstrates how these garments serve as cultural icons of "being Iñupiaq." Part of their story is learning who their mentors are, how were they influenced by Iñupiaq values, and the role of garments representing identity. There are varying reasons of what it means to be Iñupiaq: ideals, values, and human bonds exist between the creator and the wearer of skin-sewn garments.
    • Cultural activity and market enterprise: a circumpolar comparison of reindeer herding communities at the end of the 20th century

      Koskey, Michael Stephen (2003-12)
      Reindeer herding throughout the circumpolar North is in decline. Investigating this decline, this dissertation takes a comparative approach with a focus on four case studies: the Chukchi of Chukotskii Peninsula, the Iñupiat of the Seward Peninsula, the Saami of the Kola Peninsula, and the Saami of Finnmark. Because various rates and types of decline are occurring in these different cases, a comparative method leads to a systematic analysis of how patterns develop in the practice of contemporary reindeer herding, both locally and globally. Comparing and contrasting the trajectories of declines in reindeer herding identifies and explains the dimensions of specific local-global processes, and situates them in wider contexts. These dimensions include economic incompatibilities, ecological stresses, and power inequities. By focusing on changes in reindeer herding over the last decade, this study reveals the effects of the incorporation of reindeer herding into the global economy, which is heavily dependent on existing infrastructure. This study also demonstrates the social position of reindeer herders and the cultural meaning of reindeer herding to the herders themselves. The willingness of regional and national governments to subsidize herding, and to ensure its survival through consistent access to pastures, is critically important to the success of reindeer herding as a productive agricultural enterprise. Furthermore, changing ecological factors potentially threaten reindeer herding as a subsistence activity. The consequences of decline, then, are explained through the identification of decline-inducing factors, such as ecological change, political vagaries, and the inappropriateness of reindeer herding as a capital-based enterprise under existing conditions of market and transportation infrastructural development.
    • Elim's cultural values: reaffirming and implementing indigenous values in education

      Marchant, Samantha C. (2017-12)
      The curriculum project Elim's Cultural Values: Reaffirming and Implementing Indigenous Values in Education was brought to light through community-based participatory action research. Through informal interviews, survey analysis and discussions with local residents of Elim, Alaska; Elim's Cultural Values were identified and implemented into local curriculum. The Indigenous values of the community of Elim are a combination of both Yup'ik and Inupiaq heritage. These values have been carefully laid out into a set of forty separate lessons, (ten cultural value units) in which educators in the local school can implement culturally relevant lessons that connect with the Bering Strait School District curriculum. This project is a living curriculum, currently being piloted in Elim's Kindergarten classroom. It seeks to utilize the many resources we have in our school and community in hopes of reaffirming Elim's cultural values within both school and community.
    • The taming of the stew: humans, reindeer, caribou and food systems on the southwestern Seward Peninsula, Alaska

      Miller, Odin Tarka Wolf; Plattet, Patrick; Finstad, Greg; Simon, James; Yamin-Pasternak, Sveta (2019-08)
      This thesis addresses the question, what is the role of reindeer within communities of Alaska's southwestern Seward Peninsula, particularly as a food source? Employing a mixed-method approach, I conducted several months' fieldwork in the Seward Peninsula communities of Nome and Teller between 2016 and 2018, using methods that included participant observation, ethnographic interviews and a household survey designed to describe and quantify use of reindeer as food. As two varieties of the same species, Rangifer tarandus, reindeer and caribou are very similar in appearance. When caribou herds migrate nearby, reindeer tend to join them and become feral. Given the important role caribou played in Bering Straits Iñupiaq culture before their disappearance and the subsequent introduction of reindeer during the late 1800s, I contextualize the history of reindeer herding as part of a broader pattern of human-Rangifer relationships. During the past 30 years, reindeer herding has been disrupted by the return of migrating caribou to the region. Results from my fieldwork suggest that herding involves not only keeping reindeer separate from caribou, but also achieving community-level recognition of reindeer herds as domestic, privately owned and non-caribou. This is reflected in reindeer's role as a food source. Among Seward Peninsula Iñupiat, reindeer's gastronomic role is similar to that of caribou and other land mammals. Yet reindeer products can be monetarily exchanged in ways that caribou and other wild foods cannot. A further distinguishing feature of reindeer, as a domestic animal, is that it can be controlled and commodified while alive. As rural Alaskans seek to adapt their food systems to rapid social-ecological change, some have expressed renewed interest in reindeer herding. I conclude that herders must actively negotiate between views of reindeer herding as monetary and marketable, on the one hand, and as a food that embodies Iñupiaq values of generosity and (nonmonetary) sharing, on the other.
    • A total environment of change: exploring social-ecological shifts in subsistence fisheries in Noatak and Selawik, Alaska

      Moerlein, Katie J. (2012-05)
      Arctic ecosystems are undergoing rapid changes as a result of global climate change, with significant implications for the livelihoods of arctic peoples. In this thesis, I use ethnographic research methods to detail prominent environmental changes observed and experienced over the past few decades and to document the impact of these changes on subsistence fishing practices in the Inupiaq communities of Noatak and Selawik in northwestern Alaska. Using in-depth key informant interviews, participant observation, and cultural consensus analysis, I explore local knowledge and perceptions of climate change and other pronounced changes facing the communities of Noatak and Selawik. I find consistent agreement about a range of perceived environmental changes affecting subsistence fisheries in this region, including lower river water levels, decreasing abundances of particular fish species, increasingly unpredictable weather conditions, and increasing presence of beaver, which affect local waterways and fisheries. These observations of environmental changes are not perceived as isolated phenomena, but are experienced in the context of accompanying social changes that are continually reshaping rural Alaska communities and subsistence economies. Consequently, in order to properly assess and understand the impacts of climate change on the subsistence practices in arctic communities, we must also consider the total environment of change that is dramatically shaping the relationship between people, communities, and their surrounding environments.