By Matthew L. Druckenmiller, Navigating the New Arctic Community Office (NNA-CO) Director; Jenna Vater, NNA-CO Program Manager; and Karli Tyance Hassell, NNA-CO Indigenous Engagement Coordinator
The Navigating the New Arctic (NNA) initiative, as one of the National Science Foundation's (NSF) 10 Big Ideas, aims to address complex challenges in the rapidly changing Arctic through research that brings diverse expertise and knowledge systems together. To inform decisions regarding food security, climate resilience, the economy, and environmental security, NNA-funded projects are building new research partnerships at local to international scales, diversifying the next generation of Arctic researchers, and exploring new approaches in formal and informal education. The Navigating the New Arctic Community Office (NNA-CO), which was formed in February 2021, supports this mission by building awareness, partnerships, opportunities, and resources for collaboration and equitable knowledge generation within the growing NNA community. The NNA-CO defines the NNA community very broadly to include funded NNA projects, prospective NNA researchers, and current or potential NNA research partners, including Arctic communities and Indigenous organizations.
The NNA-CO is a distributed team across three universities. Alaska Pacific University, a tribally controlled, Alaska Native-serving institution, hosts the NNA-CO's Community Extension Office focused on engaging and supporting Arctic communities in diverse ways and developing training resources to assist researchers in ethically and equitably partnering with Arctic communities. The team's Education and Outreach (E&O) Field Office, based at the University of Alaska Fairbanks (UAF), is focused on facilitating connections among NNA researchers and communities, teachers, and students across Alaska and beyond. The University of Colorado Boulder hosts the central office, providing overall coordination and developing partnerships broadly across US and international Arctic research communities.
As we continue to develop the NNA-CO, we aim to support the NNA community within four focus areas:
- Co-production of knowledge between research partners and Indigenous Peoples of the Arctic;
- Convergence research—collaborative research that draws on expertise from across disciplines and knowledge systems to solve complex challenges;
- Coordinated, culturally responsive, and place-based education and outreach; and
- Open science approaches that promote and share resources for the openness, integrity, and reproducibility of NNA-funded research.
Throughout our work, we are mindful of the challenges that surround collaborative research in the Arctic, including the existing barriers and growing awareness regarding how past and current efforts by researchers have often fallen short in addressing issues of equity surrounding Arctic research partnerships and approaches. To maintain this mindfulness with sustained intention, the NNA-CO has developed a set of seven Guiding Principles to ground our efforts and steer our decisions and priorities.
We recognize that we are living in a period of profound socio-ecological change and rapid transition as we navigate the ongoing pandemic and changing environment. There is a strong need for diverse, sustainable, and resilient problem-solving and decision-making that is grounded and informed by Indigenous self-determination, autonomy, and Tribal sovereignty. In an Arctic context, this calls for greater understanding and knowledge of our shared histories and ongoing relationships with people and place, which may include processes of learning and unlearning. We aim to build and nurture a unifying NNA community that recognizes and respects the goals, values, and interests of Arctic Peoples and unites in the common goal of understanding, stewardship, and caretaking of the Arctic environment.
While the COVID-19 pandemic has created many uncertainties and impacted intended outcomes, it has also provided an opportunity for deeper reflection and introspection as we approach Arctic issues and research. Over the last few years, project teams have reevaluated, mobilized, or applied project pivots in research planning and implementation in several adaptive ways—highlighting the importance of relationships, active communication, and truly collaborative approaches in knowledge co-production, outreach, and engagement strategies. The stage has been set for sustained and consequential discussions and transformative change regarding how Arctic research can more equitably bring together Indigenous communities, knowledge stewards, researchers, practitioners, stakeholders, and policy and decision makers. The NNA-CO aims to play a role in facilitating these discussions and be responsive to their outcomes and actions.
During the NNA-CO's initial year, we held numerous events that convened members of the NNA community to discuss topics ranging from conducting field work and community-based research activities during the COVID-19 pandemic to how to prepare competitive research proposals. We launched the Broader Impacts Network (BIN)—a network that connects NNA researchers to outreach opportunities, increases visibility of NNA research, supports collaboration across project teams, and increases capacity for culturally appropriate education and outreach. We also hosted a three-day NNA Annual Community Meeting focused on both strengthening equity in research and identifying elements for successful (actionable) convergence research.
Looking ahead to the NNA-CO's second year, we will be releasing an NNA project database and mapping system, developing a range of new trainings and engagement opportunities, and hosting a 2022 NNA Annual Community Meeting aimed at showcasing and synthesizing the range of NNA research being performed across the Arctic. Additionally, the NNA-CO will design and facilitate the formation of four Convergence Working Groups, which will bring together multiple NNA projects and key partners to develop usable information, datasets, and tools that can be applied to address real-world challenges (See: Upcoming Events).Throughout 2022, the NNA-CO will lead a community-wide design process to create the working groups, which will then initiate in late 2022/early 2023.
The NNA-CO Community Extension Office is also working on an exciting podcast series that will center Indigenous community voices, stories, issues, and solutions in Arctic research, as well as a bi-annual magazine-style print work to feature stories from Arctic communities about how to foster, support, and strengthen community leaders, collaborate in research, and expand knowledge exchange.
We encourage anyone with interest in getting involved in the NNA community or with feedback about our office to reach us at contact [at] nna-co.org.
About the Authors
Matthew Druckenmiller serves as the Director of the Navigating the New Arctic Community Office (NNA-CO). He is a Research Scientist with the National Snow and Ice Data Center (NSIDC) within the Cooperative Institute for Research in Environmental Sciences (CIRES) at the University of Colorado Boulder, where he also serves as co-lead for the Exchange for Local Observations and Knowledge of the Arctic (ELOKA). Since 2006, Matthew has worked within the coastal regions of Arctic Alaska, observing the connections between changing sea-ice conditions, marine mammal habitat, and local Indigenous community knowledge and use of sea ice.
Jenna Vater serves as the NNA-CO Program Manager. She provides community coordination and engagement, office management, and support to research, data management, and educational outreach activities. Jenna's background is in working with Indigenous communities to center their perspectives and worldviews in healthcare and higher education.
Karli Tyance Hassell (Anishinaabe) serves as the Indigenous Engagement Coordinator based at the NNA-CO Community Extension Office at Alaska Pacific University. Karli aims to support Arctic communities by facilitating local/regional NNA research partnerships and interfacing NNA research with Indigenous cultures, knowledge systems, and research needs. With her background in environmental science, Karli's passion and career has been focused on building collaborative partnerships with Indigenous communities and demonstrating the importance of centering Indigenous values and knowledge through tribal representation and engagement in environmental sustainability research and solutions.