Caretakers of the Land
Kathleen Graves1, Pat Frank
1University of Alaska Anchorage
Across the continent are indigenous peoples who are connected to the land and nature. It is through their voices that nature can speak. They are the caretakers of the land. The wisdom keepers or spiritual leaders tell us that the path of Western technology is separated from the natural and spiritual law which is creating chaos.
While many westerners maintain respect for the wisdom of the Elders and caretakers of the land, some view this knowledge as dead and useless. On the other hand, many Native people have not abandoned the ancient wisdom from the past, which comes from the ancestors through the Elders. The caretakers of the land have an instinctual desire to protect the earth. They live in harmony with nature and ancestral wisdom.
Alaska Native people are observing changes in their day to day lives and are expressing concern over the sudden variation of climatic conditions and unpredictability of the weather. There has been a critical impact on the traditional lifestyle. Weather related changes and changes in the traditional cycle of the season are affecting the lives of Alaska Native people. They are witnessing the arrival of new species of insects, plants and birds. There has been erosion caused by new strong winds.
Enhancing our awareness of the changes requires balancing the scholarly approaches to understanding environmental changes with the indigenous systems of knowing. Alaska Native Elders maintain systems of knowledge which hold the potential to improve knowledge of climate changes by honoring and listening to their knowledge as equal partners with Western science.
Alaska Natives are observing and being affected by Arctic change and they maintain a substantial amount of pertinent knowledge. Alaska Natives are stakeholders and need to be engaged in the definition of questions, participations in research and interpretation of the findings. Alaska Natives are facing a complex set of social, economic and cultural changes which are directly linked to environmental changes. Alaska Natives living in rural Alaska are dependent upon the earth for their survival. They practice a subsistence way of life. Hunting and gathering activities provide continuity between generations.