Responding to Change in Northwest Alaska: Ethnographic Film and the Voices of the People

Saturday, February 18, 2017: 3:00 PM-4:30 PM
Room 313 (Hynes Convention Center)
Sarah Betcher, University of Alaska, Fairbanks, AK
Communities in northwest Alaska have historically relied on subsistence activities such as hunting, fishing and gathering to ensure food security and maintain cultural identity. However, climate-driven changes are altering the phenological timing, abundance and distribution of many important species of plants and animals. The impacts of changing climates are especially profound in rural Arctic Alaskan villages that are only accessible by air or watercraft because the costs for goods and services reflect expenses associated with transport through extreme temperatures and harsh terrains. Many rural community members mitigate these high food costs by maintaining their traditional lifestyle of hunting, fishing and gathering of marine mammals, fish, plants and berries.

Warming arctic conditions also affect essential subsistence activities due to environmental and terrain changes including reduced sea ice, permafrost thaw and increased storm severity. These changes have altered predictable plant and animal patterns which impact traditional knowledge acquired over thousands of years. Local traditional knowledge (TEK) of active hunters, fishers and gatherers provide a comprehensive understanding of climatic impacts to the Arctic. Tied to the Land: Voices of Northwest Alaska is a six-part film series produced from video and audio recordings captured from the summer of 2013 through the fall of 2014. The series focuses on activities of hunters, fishers and gatherers, including sentiments of how climate-driven changes have impacted their subsistence way of life. Video was taken from the land, sea and air in and around Kotzebue, Kivalina, Point Hope, Noatak, Ambler, Buckland, Deering, Nome, Selawik, and Noorvik. The filmmaker of this series will discuss her methodology of collaborating with the Northwest Arctic Borough and local tribal organizations to accurately showcase responses by local residents to a rapidly changing arctic, followed by showing one of the award winning films from the series: Sea Ice Secure.