Human Ecology

, Volume 42, Issue 1, pp 87–101 | Cite as

The Politics of Adaptation: Subsistence Livelihoods and Vulnerability to Climate Change in the Koyukon Athabascan Village of Ruby, Alaska

  • Nicole J. WilsonEmail author


The concepts of vulnerability and adaptation have contributed to understanding human responses to climate change. However, analysis of the implications of the broader political context on adaptation has largely been absent. Through a case study of the subsistence livelihoods of Koyukon Athabascan people of Ruby Village, this paper examines the implications of adaptation to the social changes precipitated by colonization for the articulation of current responses to climate change. Semi-structured interviews, seasonal rounds, and land-use mapping conducted with 20 community experts indicate that subsistence livelihoods are of continued importance to the people of Ruby in spite of the dramatic social change. While adaptive responses demonstrate resilience, adaptation to one form of change can increase vulnerability to other kinds of perturbations. Research findings illustrate that a historical approach to adaptation can clarify the influence of the present political context on indigenous peoples’ responses to impacts of climate changes.


Adaptation Climate change Equity and justice Indigenous peoples Subsistence livelihoods Vulnerability Alaska 



This paper is based on research conducted in completion of my MS thesis at Cornell University. It would not have been possible without support from my research partners, the Yukon River Inter-Tribal Watershed Council and the Ruby Tribal Council. I am also deeply grateful to the community experts from Ruby Village who shared their knowledge including George Albert, Phillip Albert, Tom Esmailka, Billy Honea, Clara Honea, Lorraine Honea, Junior and Karen Gurtler, Nora Kangas, Billy McCarty, Emmitt and Edna Peters, Joe Peters, Mark and Tudi Ryder, Ed Sarten, Lily Sweetsir, Pat Sweetsir, Allen Titus and Martha Wright. Enaa baasee’ (Thank you). I would also like to thank my adviser, Karim-Aly Kassam, and my minor committee members, Paul Nadasdy and Todd Walter. I am also grateful to Morgan Ruelle, Ryan Toohey, and Carol Hasburgh for reviewing a previous draft of this paper and to Morgan Ruelle for the inspiration to incorporate seasonal rounds into my research methods. This study was made possible by various funding sources including the Cornell Department of Natural Resources and American Indian Program, the Arctic Institute of North America, Grants In-Aid (2010), the Department of Foreign Affairs and International Trade, Canada Circumpolar World Fellowship (2010), the Cornell Graduate School Research Travel Grant (2010, 2011), the Mario Einaudi Center for International Studies Travel Grant (2010, 2011) and the Woodrow Wilson Fellowship Foundation’s Doris Duke Conservation Fellowship (2011–2012).


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Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media New York 2013

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Institute for Resources, Environment and SustainabilityUniversity of British ColumbiaVancouverUSA

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