At the Native American Fish and Wildlife Society Conference in Juneau this week, a panel of five discussed climate change and traditional knowledge.
Rick Edwards is the research aquatic ecologist with the U.S. Forest Service. He likened the observations of indigenous people to scientific models.
“If we focus on that part of this integrated body of spirituality, culture and knowledge, and if we focus on observation-based natural history parts of that, then indeed, that looks a lot like science to me,” he said.
In 2010, the Forest Service partnered with tribes nationwide to study the effects of climate change. Alaska Native tribes are also participating.
Ida Hildebrand is the tribal natural resource program director for the Chugach Regional Resource Commission, a nonprofit that oversees the stewardship of natural resources in the Chugach region. Hildebrand cautioned Native people to exercise sovereignty over their traditional knowledge.
“That is your tribal choice. You have that knowledge, you don’t have to share it. Or you can share parts of it and not all of it. There’s sacred knowledge. There’s common everyday knowledge. There’s all kinds of traditional knowledge,” she said.
The research is funded with federal money which means information gathered could become public record. The goal of the project is to preserve tribal culture in the face of changing climate.