Arctic Science Journeys
Natives Guide Science
STORY: Until recently scientists studying the Arctic would come in, conduct their research and leave. Rarely would they ask Natives about their knowledge of the region's environment, plants, and wildlife. And even when the subjects themselves were Natives, medical researchers rarely told them what the study was about or shared the results. Jack Kruse remembers those days. He's a sociologist at the University of Alaska Anchorage.
"For a long time, scientists have said well, as long as it's not harming people and it's not intrusive on their lives, then nobody should care and it's fine. But increasingly, people see the linkages between what science does and what communities do. So even natural scientists who might be working out on the tundra or in a field station that they think is so far away from communities as to not be a concern in fact has effects on communities and the communities are therefore very interested in what's going on and would like to have some role in determining what's going on to the extent that it affects them."
Three years ago, the Alaska Federation of Natives and the University of Alaska Anchorage formed the Alaska Native Science Commission. The commission recently developed non-binding guidelines that encourage cooperation between Natives and scientists. Those guidelines are among the topics being discussed between Natives and scientists attending this year's Arctic Science Conference near Anchorage. Patricia Cochran is an Inupiat Eskimo from Nome, and executive director of the commission.
"First and foremost is having the community involved from the very beginning. That has been a major issue. Communities do not want to come in after the fact and be informed of things, they would rather be partners and that's what we're trying to support is partnerships in science."
Cochran says the guidelines require scientists to consider local knowledge of wildlife and viewpoints in their studies. In addition, scientists must agree to protect Native cultural and intellectual property and to create local native advisory committees to monitor research projects. The North Slope Borough, where hundreds of scientists converge each year to study everything from whales to lichen, has adopted these and other guidelines. Richard Glenn says the borough's guidelines make clear the importance of Native values.
"We've lived here in the community with research since the '40s, active research, since the opening of the Naval Arctic Research Lab. The lab experience for a select few individuals who happen to be sharing with the scientists as experts or working as field assistants has produced a lot of the leadership we have in place today. We want to give more people the benefit of that interaction. We're not trying to say there was a problem before. We're trying to say there was something good and make it better."
Scientists and Alaska Natives at the Arctic Science Conference also will discuss ways to improve cooperation on issues such as environmental pollution, rural sanitation, and health care. The conference runs through September 21st and is sponsored by American Association for the Advancement of Science. For Arctic Science Journeys, this is Debra Damron.
Arctic Science Journeys is a radio service highlighting science, culture, and the environment of the circumpolar north. Produced by the Alaska Sea Grant College Program and the University of Alaska Fairbanks.
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