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Building Bridges Between Arctic Peoples
Sverre Pedersen, a Subsistence Resource Specialist with the Alaska Department of Fish and Game, recently received a four-month Fulbright Scholar grant to conduct research at the Arctic Center, University of Lapland, in Rovaniemi, Finland. He arrived in Finland mid-January to study sustainable development and impact assessment methods for evaluating traditional cultures in Arctic regions where industrial development occurs.
“This exchange is all about building bridges between people of the Arctic,” Pedersen said. “We have identified many areas where collaborating between staff at the Arctic Centre and ADF&G’s Division of Subsistence can be extremely valuable. In the big picture, we are all working towards the same goal of ensuring and maintaining environmental, resource, and social integrity into the future. What better way to do this than to draw on expertise from around the north.”
Pedersen is learning ways Alaska can help provide opportunities for customary uses of fish and wildlife in Arctic regions where oil and gas developments are expanding into subsistence use areas. While overseas, he is also sharing his Alaska perspectives and knowledge. He's helping develop an international cooperative process for assessing impacts on indigenous Arctic populations that depend on traditional harvest practices.
Studying and analyzing the many similarities and differences between Alaska, Finland, and Northwestern Russia is providing valuable insights. He said Finland’s overarching sustainable management principles are similar in terms of striving to sustain traditional activities, but there are some significant differences.
“Here, the focus is on production for the market economy. Traditional fish and wildlife resources and harvest activities have a commercial value,” Pedersen said. “Customary harvest activities provide jobs and traditional resource products are sold. In Alaska, sustainable management of traditional resources or subsistence is principally based on lifestyle for local personal and family uses, not as commercial commodities.”
Compared to Alaska, in Fennoscandi (Finland and Scandinavia) and Northwestern Russia there is much longer history of interaction with indigenous and Eurowestern (non-indigenous) populations. As a result, there is far more legal, political, economic, and social merging. Indigenous interests have had to gradually adapt and convert to Eurowestern land and resource uses to a much greater degree than in Alaska.
“The advantage is that everything is very cultivated and orderly. There are good, affordable transportation networks and options with roads, buses, and trains linking communities throughout Fennoscandi countries. It is in contrast to Alaska where there are few or no roads and travel in and out of remote communities is difficult and expensive.”
The governments have also provided cost of living incentives and equalization in most northern regions. The cost of living is subsidized in a variety of ways, making it affordable and attractive to live in the north. No matter where they live, people pay about the same price for food, fuel, housing, and transportation.
“At a recent lecture I gave here, they were scratching their heads and trying to understand why people in remote areas of Alaska must pay three or four times as much for a gallon of milk. They wanted to know why the government doesn’t make up the difference.”
Pedersen has noted comparative advantages and disadvantages. Western European settlements and economic policies have diminished subsistence opportunities by encouraging commercial use. Northern residents, indigenous and non-indigenous, have long maintained themselves by developing a market economy from local natural resources.
“From what I’ve observed, it appears that subsistence, as we know it in Alaska, has been gradually replaced and is now practiced on a very small scale in remote places in Fennoscandia and Northwestern Russia. Among indigenous peoples in the region, reindeer herding and fishing are still practiced, but the number of people involved is low compared to their total population. Most now have some form of service, labor, or resource extraction work.”
The range of available traditional resources and customary uses in Alaska is vast in comparison. For example, a traditional coastal community in northern Alaska will typically rely on several seasonal or available subsistence opportunities such as hunting marine mammals, birds, moose, or caribou; gathering bird eggs, berries, seaweeds, and plants; fishing for a variety of species; and trapping small game and fur-bearing animals.
Pedersen notes that Alaska can gain from lessons learned internationally about resource management, commercialization of wild resources, and intercultural relations.
“This part of the world has a very different system of government and a very different relationship with their indigenous cultures. I see benefits and losses from their resource and land developments, economic and cultural orientations. If we carefully apply appropriate measures, Alaska can continue to support cultural and economic diversity while developing a broad based market economy that is sustainable far into the future. I’m really appreciating Alaska and the opportunity we have to use and develop our resources wisely.”
After weeks of academic collaboration and research at the Arctic Center, Sverre is now visiting Sami reindeer herding and other northern development areas. The Sami are indigenous people that occupy areas in Lapland of Scandinavia and Russia. There are approximately 75,000 Sami throughout the region with roughly 6,500 living in Finland. Like most indigenous peoples, they have their own history, language, and culture. Pedersen is looking forward to gaining first hand knowledge and understanding from these communities.
Pedersen is grateful for this opportunity provided through the Fulbright grant. He said that the experience demonstrates the value and importance of collaboration and that he wants to build on his overseas work and experience.
“I am hopeful that by the time I leave in mid-May we’ll have developed some ways for us to continue to exchange ideas and build on the pan-Arctic relationship. When I get back to Alaska, I’ll also seriously cultivate working relationships with policy and research staff at University of Alaska. Being here has shown me the many benefits of working with the academic community.”
The Fulbright Scholar Program is sponsored by the United States Department of State, Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs, with additional funding from participating governments and host institutions. Recipients are selected based on academic or professional achievement, and by demonstrating extraordinary leadership potential in their fields.
“I encourage others to pursue programs like the Fulbright Professional Development grant. Spending time as a professional in a foreign country gives you new perspectives and allows you to share insights and information and grow in your profession. This experience is proving invaluable to me.”
The program is designed to support research and teaching opportunities that create cultural and educational enlightenment. Pedersen is one of nearly 850 professionals who will travel abroad during this academic year through the Fulbright Scholar Program. More information about the Fulbright Scholar Program is available at http://www.cies.org/
Nancy Long is an information officer with the Alaska Department of Fish and Game.
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