Gathering and sharing Indigenous Knowledge through story-telling and art
The Wisdom Keepers Project gathers Indigenous Knowledge (IK) about migratory birds to keep that knowledge alive and share it with tribal subsistence users in Southcentral Alaska. Indigenous Knowledge is the summation of millennia of knowledge and experience gained by indigenous inhabitants of a landscape as they actively manage and utilize an area's natural resources. As such, it is a valuable vehicle to understand past human-environment relationships, which can in turn inform modern management and conservation.
Partners coalesce around migratory bird subsistence
The Alaska Migratory Bird Co-Management Council (AMBCC) was started in 2000 to conserve migratory birds in Alaska via co-management of the spring and summer migratory bird subsistence harvest. Council members include representatives from Alaska Native subsistence regions, Alaska Department of Fish and Game and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.
Chugach Regional Resources Commission (CRRC) has been operating in Southcentral Alaska since 1984 and is comprised of seven Tribes from the Chugach Region: Tatitlek Village IRA Council, Native Village of Eyak (Cordova), Port Graham Village Council, Nanwalek IRA Council, Chenega Bay IRA Council, Qutekcak Native Tribe (Seward), and the Valdez Native Tribe. CRRCʻs mission is to protect Tribal subsistence via natural resource management while promoting Tribal sovereignty. CRRC is not only a member of the Migratory Bird Co-Management Council but manages the Council and houses AMBCC’s Executive Director.
With both of these entities interested in migratory birds and their management, and with an established working relationship, it was natural for them to join forces on this project. They were awarded a Pacific Birds Partnership Grant in the fall of 2020. CRCC, the lead partner, has already formed an IK Advisory Council of regional elders and is planning a Southcentral Alaska Migratory Bird Wisdom Keepers Workshop to be held in March 2021. This will be a virtual 2-day workshop that facilitates learning from elders about the migratory birds used for subsistence and how IK can be utilized in bird conservation and management.
Populating the IK Advisory Council and identifying additional Wisdom Keepers has been accomplished through the AMBCC and CRRC meetings, and by attending CRRC Tribal Council meetings. These meetings with important leaders in the community have shaped the development of the workshop.
"It is important for Tribal members in our region to have the knowledge, tools, and legal authority to continue to harvest migratory birds as they have since time immemorial. By learning from and documenting IK, CRRC and our partner AMBCC can increase the general understanding of the historic and contemporary relationships between people, migratory birds, and the environment–informing a local, diverse approach to regional conservation and resource management. IK is also a vital component of exercising Tribal sovereignty–it must passed down through generations to preserve important cultural practices and a way of life." – Willow Hetrick, Executive Director, CRRC
The information gathered by the IK Council and Wisdom Keepers Workshop will contribute to a field guide about bird species in Southcentral Alaska, focused on which species are harvestable, when to find them and how to prepare different parts of the birds. The book will feature the work of an Alaskan artist and will include traditional ecological knowledge about management, conservation, and harvesting practices. This new guide will help inform future tribal subsistence harvesters.
For the AMBCC, the guide will help ensure that the harvest meets the co-management objectives–to ensure availability and access to migratory bird species that are an important resource in the spring when other wild foods can be scarce. The artwork created through this project will be used to update surveys used throughout Southcentral Alaska on harvest and use of migratory birds.
This project is supported by a 2020 Pacific Birds Partnership Grant and supports our goal of catalyzing projects that bring people together around birds and their long-term conservation, while respecting and incorporating diverse perspectives and world views.