White House Conferees Hail Effort to Promote both Arctic Science, Traditional Knowledge

Oct 7, 2016

Informing Arctic science with traditional knowledge …


Top scientists from around the world gathered at the White House last week for the first-ever Arctic Science Ministerial. They considered ways to improve research on the climate change-driven impacts on the region and how those will affect lower latitudes. And how they can better share their findings with fellow scientists and the residents of the Arctic – especially, its indigenous peoples.

“I think the science community is doing a better job of incorporating traditional knowledge into the work that they’re doing,” says Craig Fleener, a Gwich’in Athabascan who serves as Arctic policy adviser for Alaska Gov. Bill Walker.

Representatives of indigenous-peoples organizations from around the circumpolar north meet with members of the U.S. delegation to the White House Arctic Science Ministerial on the eve of the conference last month.
Credit White House / Connie Terrell/U.S. Coast Guard

Fleener attended the ministerial and a couple of side events involving meetings with leaders of Arctic indigenous-peoples organizations and the scientists and policy-makers. He says he’s encouraged by the sessions, but he believes the scientific community should take the next step beyond just acknowledging traditional knowledge, to actually embracing it.

“I think the better solution to just asking folks for a historical perspective and what they know of the natural environment around them is having folks who are dual-trained in the western-science realm and the indigenous-knowledge-slash-traditional-science methodologies,”  he said.

Craig Fleener, left, is Alaska Gov. Bill Walker's Arctic policy adviser; Jim Gamble, right, is executive director of the Aleut International Association.
Credit KUAC file photos

The head of one of the indigenous-peoples organizations represented at the ministerial agrees.

“If you want the whole picture, you have to have both science and traditional knowledge,” says Jim Gamble, executive director of the Aleut International Association, which represents members in Alaska and Russia. Gamble praised the work that came out of last week’s meeting, but he says they could’ve been better if the scientific community had invited Native peoples to help organize the event.

“The one criticism that I might really level is none of the indigenous representatives were really involved at all in the planning of the meeting,” he said. “And I think that a little bit of effort to involve indigenous representatives in the actual planning would’ve gone a long way.”

Gamble says he and other participants made that point clear to administration officials. And he says he’s confident their voices were heard and that they’ll be much more involved in the second Arctic Science Ministerial, to be held two years from now in Finland.