Climatic Change

, Volume 120, Issue 3, pp 557-567

First online:

Indigenous frameworks for observing and responding to climate change in Alaska

  • Patricia CochranAffiliated withAlaska Native Science Commission
  • , Orville H. HuntingtonAffiliated withWildlife and Parks, Tanana Chiefs Conference
  • , Caleb PungowiyiAffiliated with
  • , Stanley TomAffiliated withNewtok Village Council
  • , F. Stuart ChapinIIIAffiliated withInstitute of Arctic Biology, University of Alaska Fairbanks Email author 
  • , Henry P. HuntingtonAffiliated with
  • , Nancy G. MaynardAffiliated withCryospheric Sciences Branch, NASA Goddard Space Flight Center
  • , Sarah F. TrainorAffiliated withAlaska Center for Climate Assessment and Policy, University of Alaska Fairbanks

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Despite a keen awareness of climate change, northern Indigenous Peoples have had limited participation in climate-change science due to limited access, power imbalances, and differences in worldview. A western science emphasis on facts and an indigenous emphasis on relationships to spiritual and biophysical components indicate important but distinct contributions that each knowledge system can make. Indigenous communities are experiencing widespread thawing of permafrost and coastal erosion exacerbated by loss of protective sea ice. These climate-induced changes threaten village infrastructure, water supplies, health, and safety. Climate-induced habitat changes associated with loss of sea ice and with landscape drying and extensive wildfires interact with northern development to bring both economic opportunities and environmental impacts. A multi-pronged approach to broadening indigenous participation in climate-change research should: 1) engage communities in designing climate-change solutions; 2) create an environment of mutual respect for multiple ways of knowing; 3) directly assist communities in achieving their adaptation goals; 4) promote partnerships that foster effective climate solutions from both western and indigenous perspectives; and 5) foster regional and international networking to share climate solutions.