Ilisagvik College Links People in Alaska, Mexico

Nov 15th, 2010 | By | Category: 22-2: Crossing Borders, Winter 2010, Community & Partnerships, Tribal College News

NATIVE TO NATIVE. In 2009, students Katie Roseberry (Iñupiaq) and Rodolfo Juarez Garcia (Zapotec) traveled on four wheelers to observe arctic owls in Barrow. Photo by Keila Dara Rojas García

By Debby Edwardson

For four years, students have participated in Ilisagvik College’s (Barrow, AK) Alaskan/Indigenous Mexican Interchange summer program. They have learned that Indigenous communities worldwide face similar issues regarding resource management, science, and culture.

“I used to think that we were the only ones who had to struggle for our way of life,” says 2006 participant Selma Khan of Barrow, “but now I’m finding out how people all over the world have had to do the same.”

Four years ago, Mexican students joined five students from Barrow to spend a month working with scientists and elders on the North Slope. They spent a subsequent month in two regions of Mexico learning about similar issues there.

Then, in 2008 North Slope students spent a month in Mexico. In 2009, students from these communities joined North Slope students in Barrow to spend a month working together in the Iñupiaq region. Then, in summer 2010, North Slope students from Barrow and the village of Point Hope traveled to the Zapotec community of Ixtlan to work with scientists and Zapotec elders.

Each year, students worked with scientists, culture bearers, and political decision makers to understand the ways people approach science and its relationship to culture. In particular, they focused on the challenges decision makers face when managing resources for the future as well as the present.

The program was conceived by Barbara Bodenhorn, who teaches Social Anthropology at Cambridge University in England and has worked on the North Slope for over 30 years. The program was facilitated on a local level by Ilisagvik Coordinator of Special Projects Debby Edwardson.

“By placing equal value on both scientific and cultural ways of knowing, we hope to encourage these young people to consider careers in the sciences, preparing them to get involved in the field which imports hundreds of researchers to the North Slope each year, [almost] none of them Iñupiaq,” says Bodenhorn. On a larger scale, Bodenhorn says, the project “establishes international links between young members of Indigenous communities who soon may be taking on responsibilities for maintaining environmentally sound development.”

Host families in Alaska and Mexico and community members from both countries took time to impart their knowledge. Major funding came from the National Science Foundation and was supported by an agreement with Ilisagvik College, Cambridge University, North Slope Borough School District, and NSF contractor CH2MHill Polar Services. Barrow Utilities and Electric Cooperative, the Barrow Arctic Science Commission, and the Rotary Club of Barrow also donated support and money.

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