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New UAF program to focus on Indigenous knowledge

Sockeye salmon smoking in a smokehouse.
Sockeye salmon smoking in a smokehouse.(KTUU)
Published: Sep. 14, 2020 at 4:58 PM AKDT
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ANCHORAGE, Alaska (KTUU) - A new graduate program at the University of Alaska Fairbanks' College of Fisheries and Ocean Sciences aims to both elevate Indigenous knowledge of fisheries in Alaska and also equip more Alaska Native students to be leaders in organizations involved with managing the resource.

“It became really apparent to us in our College of Fisheries and Ocean Sciences at UAF that we really center on Western science, and really don’t include Indigenous knowledge in a real way in our teaching. And we also really started to recognize really big exclusions,” Courtney Carothers, a professor of fisheries at UAF and one of the program leaders, said.

Currently, only about 3% of CFOS students identify as Alaska Native. The program is funded by a $3 million grant from the National Science Foundation, which Carothers says will mostly help assist around 20 Alaska Native graduate students.

The new program is being called “Tamamta,” which in the Yup’ik and Sugpiaq languages means “all of us.”

Jessica Black, who is Gwich’in and an assistant professor in UAF’s Department of Alaska Native Studies and Rural Development, says that the program will work collaborate with other projects, such as the One Health initiative.

“It’s important to elevate Indigenous knowledge to its rightful place as an intact knowledge system in its own right,” Black said. “Then also recognize that Alaska being an Indigenous place, Indigenous people should be involved in not only contributing to knowledge, what constitutes knowledge, but also governance systems, being at the table where decision making happens.”

In addition to new classes developed for the program, Carothers and Black say it will have an elder-in-residence program, cultural immersion experiences and other unique learning opportunities.

“This and all of our projects really, I think, are trying to advance some change in the system,” Carothers said. “These Indigenous knowledge systems aren’t just knowledge about the land and other beings like fish, they’re deep relationships, deep values I think that could really guide our decision-making system in a really good way, focused on equity and sustainability and relations between people, taking care of those who need it most. All of these kind of things we see a very exciting future for Alaska once some of these things become more central to our system.”

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