Stanford University

Communication and Collaboration between National Park Service and Community Stakeholders in Northwest Arctic Alaska

ClockSeptember 28, 2020
People walking on ice
Kristen and Tommy Geffe, Kotzebue walking on the frozen Kotzebue Sound to fish for sheefish

Kristen Green & Savannah Fletcher

Successful governance and practice of community norms require buy-in from the community as a whole. This is especially true in rural communities that rely on the land and one another for support. Shared standards and approaches to harvesting have long been used by indigenous communities in Alaska to maintain sustainable resource use. Yet with changing environmental conditions and the confluence of indigenous and Western cultures, subsistence practices in Alaska are changing. The population of the Northwest Arctic Alaska is nearly all Iñupiaq, an Alaska Native group with a long history of land use in the region. Subsistence resources in those communities are culturally, socially, and economically critical. Kristen Green (PhD) and Savannah Fletcher (MS-JD) were awarded an E-IPER Collaboration Grant to investigate and document Iñupiaq approaches to harvesting in National Parklands in the Northwest Arctic, specifically Cape Krusenstern National Monument, an area heavily used by subsistence harvesters. This collaboration was built on a natural fit that combines Green's PhD research in the region—how access to coastal subsistence resources is affected by climate change—with Fletcher's background in legal analysis. Their work is to document Iñupiaq subsistence approaches to hunting and harvesting. Over the course of their project, and, in collaboration with the community and National Park Service (NPS), they developed a film and educational deliverables to communicate Iñupiaq values as they apply to subsistence and land management.

Ice fishing
Kristen sheefishing on the Kotzebue Sound

Fletcher and Green conducted most of their research above the Arctic Circle, in the town of Kotzebue, Alaska and at a local fish camp. They interviewed 48 local harvesters and NPS staffers to document traditional approaches to harvesting coastal resources. Their participant enrollment process, typical for research in "bush Alaska," developed organically as they visited with locals, attended community potlucks, and walked around the village with an audio recorder. In a region where schedules are dependent on the weather rather than Google calendars, flexibility around their planned research objectives was paramount. They found the communities occupied with subsistence harvesting activities year-round, evidenced by the bearded seal carcasses being processed for seal oil and meat and the racks of chum salmon drying in the sun in summer, to winter ice fishing for sheefish. The themes regarding Iñupiaq approaches to sustainable harvesting were focused primarily on the concepts of respect, gratitude, and sharing: all people should respect the animals and plants, the land, and other people; give thanks for their harvest; and share their harvest with others. People should take only what they need and not waste any part of their harvest. These lessons were communicated by elders and youth through stories that captured the complexity and richness of each approach in practice.

Chum Salmon drying
Chum salmon drying at fish camp

In some cases, guidelines were specific. For example, let the first caribou of the migration cross the Noatak (the area's major river) before hunting, so as not to disturb the leaders of the migration as they lay down a scent trail for the other animals to follow. People also shared specific stories, like a time they had already harvested multiple beluga whales in a day and, instead of taking more than they needed, gave their neighbor the opportunity to harvest the beluga that remained. People explained that they had learned these customs from their family and ancestors.

Savannah and Richard Hensley, Kotzebue elder
Savannah and Richard Hensley, Kotzebue elder

Out of these stories and lessons came the idea to share them through a short film that could educate both new NPS employees as well as the youth and next generation within the Kotzebue community. Fletcher and Green are working with agency staff to expand understanding of Iñupiaq perspectives as a way of fostering communication, trust, and regulatory compliance, which ultimately create a stronger foundation for the conservation of natural resources. Their analyses will contribute to the integration of local knowledge into state and federal agency management, and, in the end, will benefit local communities.


Iñupiaq Values in Subsistence Harvesting: Applying the Community Voice Method in Northwest Alaska. Kristen M. Green, Savannah S. Fletcher, Anne H. Beaudreau & Siikauraq Martha Whiting. Society & National Resources.

Respect the Land

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