• Salmon, cosmology, and identity in Elim, Alaska

      Raymond-Yakoubian, Julie M.; Schweitzer, Peter; Koester, David; Plattet, Patrick; Carothers, Courtney; Lowe, Marie (2019-05)
      This dissertation is the result of sociocultural anthropological research in and about the community of Elim, Alaska. Elim is a small community of approximately 330 (primarily Inupiaq and Yup'ik Eskimo) people in Norton Sound. This research began with a focus on the topics of salmon and identity in the community. The focus on salmon was particularly important because the communities of this region have often traditionally been understood in the social sciences through the lens of relationships with marine mammals. The research involved participant observation in the community, a variety of forms of ethnographic interviewing (free listing, structured, and semi-structured interviews), focus groups, storytelling sessions, and archival research. Over 80 adults in the community participated in the project through interviews. I also completed extensive photo-documentation of the community and various aspects of peoples' relationships with subsistence activities. Much of this work began with inquiries about the importance of salmon to people in Elim, as well as an examination of other things which were important to Elim residents, and how people come to understand themselves. In this I also examined and learned about aspects of Elim residents' relationships with fish and other animals, with the environment, with the spiritual world, and with each other. This process led me to insights not just about identity in Elim - what matters, what is meaningful and valued, how people understand and define themselves and their community, and so on - but it also led to me an understanding of how Elim residents think about the nature of the world in general (i.e., cosmology). My main argument in this dissertation is that my research in and about Elim revealed that identity and cosmology are co-created - and it revealed how this is the case. I discovered that salmon are 'good to think with' in order to see that. This co-creation of identity and cosmology occurs within a particularly visible hybrid cosmological landscape of (primarily) 'traditionally Indigenous' and Christian ideologies. This landscape in lived culture and context is marked by a patterned heteroglossic 'condition' which includes a dominant (and indigenized) Christian discourse. This heteroglossia is constituted, represented, and evidenced by a (markedly) heterogeneous multiplicity of discourse, practice, and belief. This cosmological landscape and its heteroglossic condition are visible, and made, in various respects in co-implicated, co-indexical, interlocking instantiations of human-animal relationships, spirituality, systems of proper behavior, place attachments, and identity processes and formations.
    • 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.