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Capturing culture

June 27, 2019


Eleanor Morgan

Throughout our class, we have learned a great deal about the Arctic Indigenous communities. Within this, we have learned how climate change is affecting the overall health of communities, and the continuation of Indigenous cultures. Due to sea ice melt, habitat loss, endangered species and much more, Indigenous Peoples need to be more resilient than ever. The effects of climate change have had a massive impact on Indigenous peoples’ hunting, living and eating habits. Much of their culture is embedded in these activities and to lose them is to lose one’s history. Many individuals are looking to alternative forms of food, but are losing the culture they have grown up in. Indigenous Peoples place extraordinary value on the continuation of their culture, but struggle with this goal in response to climate change.

Indigenous Peoples need to be extremely resilient and are adapting to this changing climate each day. With this being said, Indigenous Peoples are historically some of the strongest individuals. They face challenges ferociously and have maintained a healthy culture and lifestyle for decades despite consistently changing climates. At the same time, due to the recent rapid shift in temperatures and climate conditions, Indigenous Peoples are losing some of their main cultural aspects. Despite losing certain animals and languages, the Indigenous Peoples of the Arctic remain resilient; it is how they use this resilience that will shape the future of their survival. Throughout my research, I asked myself: how is climate change affecting Indigenous Peoples and how are they utilizing both formal and informal education to protect their cultures? The goal of this policy brief is to examine these effects and solutions throughout the Arctic region.

Context or Scope of Problem

Climate change has plagued all ends of the Earth, but some of the most affected areas are the Arctic regions. Over the years, many scientists have worked to document the impacts on the Arctic due to shifting temperatures and changing atmospheric elements. More specifically, Arctic Indigenous communities are undergoing “… widespread thawing of permafrost and coastal erosion exacerbated by loss of protective sea ice” (Cochran 1). These changes are affecting not only village infrastructure, but the cultural aspects embedded in Indigenous peoples’ territory. An article in the Journal of Nutrition researched 58,500 of Canada’s Aboriginal People and discovered “… that moose, caribou, fish (whitefish, char, trout), and seal were the most heavily consumed [traditional foods] items in all cultures and regions” (Kuhnlein 1). Indigenous individuals have obtained their traditional sources of food through practices of hunting, fishing and gathering for thousands of years. Although these communities have remained consistent throughout the years, the intensity of the current climate changes are putting these traditions at risk. Indigenous Peoples understand the process of sustainable living, but regardless of this understanding, selfish western behavior has compromised the continuation of certain cultural practices.

Continuing the culture of the Indigenous Peoples of the Arctic is incredibly important because it not only preserves an ancient, historical way of life, but also sheds light on the drastic impact of climate change. We have much to learn from Indigenous Peoples in the Arctic and across the world, specifically when it comes to resilience and survival. Indigenous knowledge is based on their historically long inhabitations of specific areas and “… offers insights that can benefit everyone from educator to scientist as we search for a more satisfying and sustainable way to live on this planet” (Barnhardt 154). Indigenous groups have lived in the same locations for thousands of years and over time have established a mutually beneficial relationship with nature. Indigenous individuals understand the significance behind preserving the resources they need to survive. The evolution of Indigenous knowledge in relation to a location’s seasonal behavior has enabled them to ensure the long-term availability of natural resources (Thompson 49). Sustainability within these Indigenous locations has been achieved through “the transmission of this knowledge from one generation to the next, along with a philosophy of sharing…” (Thompson 49). Indigenous groups have mastered the art of sustainability; through their achievements, western civilizations can learn to live a more sustainable life.

We as a nation, and a world, are not prepared for the events that will occur in the next ten to twelve years. As mentioned before, sea ice will continue to melt, and temperatures will continue to increase (Cochran 1). Indigenous groups have been around for millennia, and through their culture, they have learned the importance of strong communities. They have also learned the importance of sustainability and respecting the world’s resources. These resources sustain Indigenous individuals in the Arctic nutritionally and economically, “… but also provide a fundamental basis for social identity, spiritual life, and cultural survival” (Hassol 100). The sustainability of Arctic resources and Indigenous culture comes from a deep connection to the environment they live in. Most non-Indigenous individuals possess an overarching lack of respect and connection to the planet. Many Indigenous peoples across the globe have embedded into their cultures the importance a healthy relationship with nature. This fact is just one of the many lessons we can learn from Indigenous peoples. It is important for us to examine the effects of climate change on the Indigenous Peoples, because in this way we can understand the severity of the issues and how to effectively respond to these changes.

Through centuries of discoveries, Indigenous groups have created a strong bond with communities both within their culture and outside as well. Some of these connections were forced by the early colonization of Indigenous lands in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries.  For example, in the Upiat and Yup’ik areas, missionaries established boarding schools and imposed western education on the Indigenous groups. Many native children were forced to leave their villages to receive a western high school education, unrelated to their culture (Nuttall, Callaghan 381). Western education was a way of life imposed on the Indigenous individuals that left little room for cultural connection. Understanding this relationship between Indigenous Peoples and nature helps us to understand that westernizing Indigenous education is unhealthy. There are key parts of their culture being left out of their formal education, and this fact needs to change. Many areas have shifted to combine both the cultural aspects in informal education with formal education. An example of this trend is in Barrow, Alaska, where whaling is both the backbone of the community and the foundation on which learning is built (Larsen, Fondahl 353). Indigenous individuals are combing the culture of their community with formal western education and creating a learning environment that is the most effective for their specific location. Others have been demanding the power of education to be placed in the Indigenous peoples’ hands once again. Indigenous peoples focus on a relationship with nature, whereas Western science focuses on the facts of climate change. When creating an education system for Indigenous peoples, communities must look to “… promote partnerships that foster effective climate solutions from both western and indigenous perspectives” (Cochran 1). Moreover, it is important to comprehend the climate change impacts in relation to the culture and structure of Indigenous education, because each of these parts work together to create the shifting atmosphere of the Arctic Region.

Policy Alternatives

Currently, many individuals believe that the westernization of Indigenous education will help them in their futures. People want to teach formal education in a western world style to the Indigenous Peoples, but in doing so, cultures are being affected by both education and climate change. Indigenous Peoples have mastered the art of sustainable living over many centuries, but due to current human impacts, climate change is causing them to shift their traditional lifestyle. Hunting, fishing and gathering are becoming harder to engage in due to the loss of sea ice and rising temperatures. Due to this affecting traditional cultures, certain practices are being lost in the transfer of one generation to the next. This fact is why we need education systems that promote the combination of informal cultural education and formal western education.

Individuals should implement cultural aspects into the formal education of children, in order to preserve cultures and learn how to effectively live a sustainable life. We should use this change as an opportunity to learn from these cultures and better prepare ourselves for the trials of climate change ahead. Education should be something that is controlled by specific communities, and curriculum should come from within, not any outsider’s point of view. It may also be helpful to combine the styles of teaching into one form. Again, this was seen in the school system in Barrow, Alaska. Through this combination, Indigenous families could sustain their cultural aspects within a formal education system (Larsen, Fondahl 353). Many Indigenous families want their children to receive a formal western education, but this does not mean they wish for them to lose their culture along the way (Larsen, Fondahl 355). I think the best solution would be to combine formal and informal education based on the community member’s desires.

Policy Recommendations

As mentioned in the Arctic Climate Impact Assessment, Indigenous groups have the right to control the type of education in their communities (Larsen, Fondahl 354). Educators need to work hand-in-hand with people in the community to provide the most positive educational experience. Much of Indigenous peoples’ cultures have been lost when it comes to formal education, and this fact is why there needs to be a stronger emphasis on the integration of Indigenous culture and voice in the structuring of education in the Arctic. Languages are also affected by the westernization of education, and Indigenous groups have a right to teach students in their native tongue. When families move to provide their child a formal education, many times they leave behind their community and the culture associated with it. Multiple rural areas in the North are being impacted by this, and entire communities and languages are disappearing (Larsen, Fondahl 355). In order to combat this loss, school systems and communities must work together to create the most beneficial education system for that location. An example of this is in nomadic schools in “Siberia where the teachers follow the reindeer herders and also sometimes utilize educated parents alongside regular teachers” (Larsen, Fondahl 355). Through this, they are integrating a crucial piece of their culture into their formal education. Combing these styles of education sustains both cultures and resources.

At the same time, we must work to protect and conserve our planet. Climate change is happening before our eyes, and we must function as a team to combat these impacts. Indigenous Peoples have established a healthy relationship with nature and understand the importance of conserving resources. There are many lessons pertaining to human survival, sustainability, and relationships that we can learn from Indigenous groups. While climate change continues, there can be a shared conversation about sustainability between western civilizations and Indigenous groups. We must support and promote a healthy relationship between Indigenous peoples and western science, in order to gain new knowledge and preserve the planet and its many cultures. There are lessons to be learned from one another on both sides, and we need to take the time to understand them. The impacts on hunting, fishing, and gathering in Indigenous communities are no longer admissible, and we must work together to sustain our planet’s resources and cultures. Combining formal and informal education allows both the Indigenous Peoples and the western civilizations to share their knowledge on climate change and sustainability. This fosters a mutual relationship of learning where individuals can relay new information on sustainability back to their communities. Without the lessons embedded in these cultures, we will lose valuable knowledge pertaining to sustainability and how to have a healthy relationship with nature. Overall, we must advocate Indigenous management of a combined informal cultural education and formal Western education system, in order to preserve Indigenous cultures and our planet’s resources.



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Native PhDs for Leadership Roles in Research.” Canadian Journal of Native Education,

vol. 31 no. 2, 2008.

Cochran, Patricia, et al. Climate Change and Indigenous Peoples in the United States. Dordrecht,

Springer Science+Business Media, 26 March 2013.

Hassol, Susan. The Impacts of a Warming Climate: Arctic Climate Impact Assessment. Cambridge, Cambridge University Press, 2004.

Kuhnlein, H.V. et al. “Arctic Indigenous Peoples Experience the Nutrition Transition with

Changing Dietary Patterns and Obesity.” The Journal of Nutrition, vol. 134, no. 6, 2004,

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Larsen, Joan Nymand and Gail Fondahl. Regional Processes and Global Linkages: Arctic Human Development Report. Copenhagen, Nordic Council of Ministers, 2014.

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