Corps de l’article
Editors Igor Krupnik and Dyanna Jolly have collected 10 chapters, each with notes and references, in The Earth is Faster Now. The book takes the emerging field of climate change and the documentation of traditional knowledge (TK) as its focus. It discusses eight research projects associated with climate change science in the Arctic to show that science can be improved with "Indigenous Observations." The book is not exhaustive — there are many communities, other projects and elders whose knowledges collectively would improve what we know and how we talk about climate change. Those listening for Native voices will not have to strain too hard to hear them.
The Earth is Faster Now is both "[…] single and multiple authored academic papers" that do not have, "with few exceptions […] a light literary touch" (Mallon 2002: B9). The audience for this book is primarily teachers and students in universities and college classrooms studying the physical science of climate change and research on and with northern native peoples. There are northern and Aboriginal audiences who may find it difficult to engage these chapters except where "Indigenous Observations" shine brightest. The Earth is Faster Now is the first volume of the Frontiers in Social Science Series, a program of research established by the Arctic Research Consortium of the United States (ARCUS). The ARCUS series exalts the new frontier of arctic research as a nexus of, as anthropologist and long-time arctic scholar Henry Huntington puts it "research concerning humans and their societies in northern regions" (p. xxi). The goal of the series and this book is to involve researchers and arctic residents on the topic of environmental change. Huntington asserts the value in developing "methods for documenting the knowledge of Arctic peoples and how to present it in a forum that is accessible both to the environmental scientist and Arctic indigenous communities themselves" (p. xxiii).
It may seem bold but this book asserts social scientists in the position of narrators for Aboriginal cultures, whose disciplinary languages and interpretations are taken as a legitimate and authoritative platform to speak in the models and formalized discussions of climate change. I will return to this thread in a moment, but first should point out that the collection of essays broadly asserts, to some extent as criticism of physical scientists regarding their impotence on climate change policy, that Indigenous populations have geographically specific local observations. Indigenous knowledge as TK is gaining currency in the construction of research projects, according to this book, just as it has gained greater use in environmental assessments, government decision-making and so on. Furthermore, the authors in this book rightly posit that science which continues to negate TK will be left out of the development of practical policies addressing important questions on climate change. The authors suggest several paths for scientists, students, and government administrators to follow when it comes to codifying Indigenous observations of climate change, but just whose version of these observations this will be is left unproblematized, unquestioned, and therefore uncertain.
Northern Indigenous Nations have talked about climate change long before Kyoto and global warming became popularized. One thing that readers of this book need to consider is that knowledge held by Gwich’in, in each of their communities, is geographically distinct. Culturally specific, Yupiit and Inuvialuit share some similarities, but also are culturally and geographically different from each other, and this holds true for their Dene and Metis neighbours. It is interesting to review the chapter by Nickels et al., and the ITK-IISD workshop on indigenous observations should be applauded. While the authors offer helpful methods on climate change research, we need to guard against overgeneralization to a pan northern set of observations on climate change, which of course do not exist, and if accepted uncritically will serve to negate the diversity of observations that exist. It is the very diversity of views and languages which makes northern cultural ecology robust.
An impressive chapter is Krupnik’s observations on Yupik knowledge, which he argues is at best patchy (p. 179). "Watching Ice and Weather Our Way: Some Lessons from Yupik Observations of Sea Ice and Weather on St. Lawrence Island, Alaska" should be read and re-read, for Krupnik makes important distinctions between framing Indigenous knowledge into scientific ways of thinking versus documenting Indigenous knowledge in a way that more closely resembles Indigenous ways of being.
The contributors in this book push the boundaries of the physical and natural sciences, who have historically housed climate change research, to consider the important contributions of TK in a number of ways; not restricted to applications as data for climate change models, but also as different ways in which the Arctic is known and changes to the environment are perceived and understood. Read independently, each chapter has something different to say about current debates in social science research. Students of traditional knowledge will find many interesting discussions from knowledge holders, as well as from TK researchers. When this book is read by climatologists, physical scientists, geographers, and others who have been engaged in arctic field research, or are thinking of it, the book offers valuable insights on current research trends. I prefer to read the book as individual chapters that give a snap shot of research projects and graduate student papers, providing me with an idea of what is going on at points along the northern arctic coast of North America.
While the papers in this book speak to both the scientific and Indigenous communities about many important topics related to climate change and its research, there are pitfalls to speaking out of both sides of one’s mouth. For example, David Norton’s "Coastal Sea Ice Watch: Private Confessions of a Convert to Indigenous Knowledge," disapproves of many TK researchers as "noisy folks" (p. 151) and "amateurs" (p. 150). He is won over to TK by speaking with knowledge holders in person, an important thing to keep in mind as we read his interpretations of Indigenous observations. Interestingly, Norton dismisses the question "is Indigenous knowledge likely to be corrupted by scientific collaborations," which I feel is essential to consider, especially when keeping in mind that "amateurs" will read this book and never speak to other community-based researchers (p. 152).
The arguments made in this book are tentative and require more rigorous research if they are to be of much use to the scientific community. The methodologies used to document observations work at the local level and will be tested in time. Of value is the lesson that in each community, with each focus group of elders, on each research project, researchers need to check their assumptions. In closing the book, Fikret Berkes talks about possible integration of science and TK; his remarks should be carefully weighed. It may be argued that we need to pause and ask about the quality of ideas and methods represented as "Indigenous observations of Arctic environmental change," produced out of academic conferences by contributors who come from a number of different perspectives. For the book to be more than a product of the sensitivity that have developed in the research community as a response to more vocal and assertive Indigenous peoples (their governments and agencies), more work needs to be completed.
What I found most surprising about the book is its publication approximating real time — there is a narrow gap between research and publication. This book is in itself faster now than past publications, thanks to ARCUS, graphics and photos software, computer models, and other factors speeding up how knowledge is generated, packaged and distributed. There is an unresolved question in the book about whose knowledge it claims to represent and reproduce. There are claims based on speaking from lived and cultural teachings while others are made by trained objective arbiters of scientific knowledge. As Huntington and others suggest, "[Social scientists] have a great deal to offer to this discussion," a discussion which Arctic peoples are adept at speaking to themselves. The experience of many Indigenous organizations in the North is that elders want their knowledge documented, want their traditions respected and passed on to their youth. If this requires adaptation to a workshop or ethnographic researchers, so it has to be, but that is not what is produced in the The Earth is Faster Now. This book is, in part, an attempt by northerners to win the hearts and imagination of southern academics on a number of levels. It is not surprising with major initiatives going on such as Whitehorse’s Circumpolar Climate Change Summit (Coates et al. 2001) and the Arctic Council’s Arctic Climate Impact Assessment. There is a degree of Action Ecology at work here, an ecology that promotes the need for physical and natural sciences to have a more open mind about knowledge and its generation, about the value of different ways of thinking, of the significant body of knowledge carried in the minds (embedded in the cultures) of knowledgeable northern Aboriginal peoples.
- Coates, Ken, Judith Kleinfeld and Amanda GRAHAM (eds), 2001 Proceedings of the Circumpolar Climate Change Summit Whitehorse, Yukon, 19-21 March 2001, The Northern Review, vol. 24.
- Mallon, Mick, 2002 Arts and Leisure review of The Earth is Faster Now, News / North, October 21: B9.