A Century of Elders Knowledge: A Research Paper to Summarize 18 Years of Oral History Work

Elders knowledgeIn 2003 the Finnish non-profit Snowchange Cooperative was invited by the U’mista Cultural Society and the Kwakiutl Territorial Fisheries Commission to work with a number of ‘Namgis and Dzawada‘enuxw First Nation Elders on oral histories of climate and environmental change.

Over the years a book (2004) and several workshops (2005, 2006, 2010) have conveyed some of the results of this long-term oral history work, but now a new process to publish the results as a peer-reviewed science paper is under way.

A Century of Elders Knowledge will focus on the historical period between the 1910s and 2010, ranging from the era when many of these recorded Elders were born and ending with the devastating flood which affected the Dzawada’enuxw in Kingcome in 2010. By co-writing and co-learning with eight Elders, the science article will summarize:

  • Important messages of Kwakwakwala Indigenous Knowledge over a century of change
  • Interlinkages between the ocean, weather, terrestrial ecosystems and salmon that are often missed by “western science”
  • A dialogue between Indigenous knowledge and weather statistics to determine convergence / divergence in knowledge systems including a literature summary
  • A review of cultural responses to the devastation of the 2010 Kingcome Flood
  • Messages of wisdom and the ethics of good relations with the sea, land and nature based on Elders oral histories

We believe that through the process of understanding the century of change from 1910-2010 the events of the 21st century will be able to be better positioned within a long-term continuum that only Indigenous knowledge can produce.

The primary science team consists of Adjunct Professor, IPCC Lead Author, Tero Yakugladzi Mustonen (Snowchange), Ecologist, Ph D Brie Van Dam (Snowchange) and field researcher Hanna Eklund (at present at Institute of the North, Alaska). Results of the paper will be communicated to the media and to the communities. The expected release of the paper will be late 2021 or early 2022.

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Poleward Bound: Adapting to climate-driven species redistribution

Family harvests on Sosnovka, 2020.

Family harvests on Sosnovka, 2020.

A new science article from Snowchange and leading ecologists in marine sciences reviews and discusses the meaning, significance and deductions of the poleward movement of species and fishery stocks both for science and Indigenous and traditional maritime communities. 

One of the most pronounced effects of climate change on the world’s oceans is the (generally) poleward movement of species and fishery stocks in response to increasing water temperatures. This paper reviews the meanings from science and Indigenous knowledge to position the present change.

In some regions, such redistributions are already causing dramatic shifts in marine socioecological systems, profoundly altering ecosystem structure and function, challenging domestic and international fisheries, and impacting on human communities. Such effects are expected to become increasingly widespread as waters continue to warm and species ranges continue to shift.

00615Actions taken over the coming decade (2021-2030) can help us adapt to species redistributions and minimise negative impacts on ecosystems and human communities, achieving a more sustainable future in the face of ecosystem change. We describe key drivers related to climate-driven species redistributions that are likely to have a high impact and influence on whether a sustainable future is achievable by 2030. We posit two different futures – a ‘business as usual’ future and a technically achievable and more sustainable future, aligned with the Sustainable Development Goals.

We then identify concrete actions that provide a pathway towards the more sustainable 2030 and that acknowledge and include Indigenous perspectives. Achieving this sustainable future will depend on improved monitoring and detection, and on adaptive, cooperative management to proactively respond to the challenge of species redistribution. We synthesise examples of such actions as the basis of a strategic approach to tackle this global-scale challenge for the benefit of humanity and ecosystems.

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The River Alazeya: Shifting Socio-Ecological Systems Connected to a Northeastern Siberian River



Indigenous author Vyacheslav Shadrin and Tero Mustonen summarize 15 years of climate change work and Indigenous knowledge in NE Siberian watershed of Alazeya River. The peer reviewed paper is released today in the Arctic.

48kolyma_andrejuskino2005One of the most remote Arctic locations, Andryushkino village of Yukaghir and Even peoples is located on the shore of the river Alazeya in northeastern Siberia, in the Lower Kolyma Republic of Sakha-Yakutia, Russia. The community is at the nexus of large-scale Arctic social and climate change resulting from economic shifts, permafrost melt events, and high temperatures. In this study, we approach Indigenous knowledge of climate impacts to water by investigating the role of the river Alazeya, which has enabled human life to thrive, given rise to the Indigenous governance of landscapes in the past, and today serves most of the Indigenous peoples in the region for their culture, food security, and well-being.

To do this, we offer an ambitious system-change analysis of the socio-ecological context of the river basin and community by exploring oral histories recorded in the community between 2005 and 2020, combining them with relevant scientific literature and weather data from Russian measurement stations to detect and point to key messages of impacts. Our results confirm that the speed and extent of climate warming have increased since 1985. The flood event of 2007 in the village has especially been seen as a major climate change-induced catastrophe. We focus on the drivers of change from local history to present. We also investigate alternatives for future development of resilience and support for the Yukaghir culture, traditional ways of life, and language.


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New Extensive Web Portal Captures the Essentials of the Landscape Rewilding Programme


Open today, the Landscape Rewilding Portal summarizes the results and sites of the Snowchange restoration programme building on Indigenous and local knowledge and latest science. It is at

  • Where is the home of the brook lamprey?
  • Where can you find the largest wetland in Western Finland?
  • What is the connection between river Koitajoki and J.R.R. Tolkien?
  • How does the very first co-management area of Finland with the Skolt Sámi look like?
  • Where could you potentially see the ultra-rare long-billed dowitcher?
  • Which area emerged as one of the largest nature protection sites in Finland in 2020?
  • How does traditional river seining help the survival of the endangered whitefish?

3Answers to these questions and many more are unveiled at the over 30 sites on the portal. Landscape Rewilding Programme has expanded rapidly since 2017, today covering 26,000 hectares of land and waters impacted, 1700 hectares owned by the programme and 4 major catchment areas across the country being the core of the work (rivers Koitajoki, Jukajoki and Näätämö and lake Kuivasjärvi). Scalable 3D maps and photography by award winning Mika Honkalinna takes the portal to another level.

1If people are looking for an outdoor site to visit or see how rewilding can re-connect ecosystems, the portal is a place to go. Each week new content is added when new research and other results become available.

The portal has been programmed by NolWenture in Joensuu in cooperation with Snowchange.


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Arctic Seas Portal Shares Marine Spaces to Wide Audiences

2021Today Snowchange with partners releases ”Arctic Seas”, a major international atlas and a portal that summarizes Indigenous and ecological information from the changing oceans of the North.

The Planet Has Only One Ocean But Many Seas.

Our work is connected with the United Nations Decade of Ocean Research 2020-2030 and also our partners, the Future Seas 2030 Initiative.

The portal, which will be expanding rapidly, contains

  • Photography by award-winning artists like Mika Honkalinna
  • Summaries and unique, authentic voices of Arctic Indigenous communities and their knowledge
  • Summaries of sea ice changes for each Arctic Sea area 1850-2020 based on science
  • External links to major regional Indigenous atlases, including the Inuit Trails, Sea Ice, Place Name and Community-Based Monitoring Atlases
  • Films, reports and data on each sea area in local languages (main language is English)
  • Hand-drawn maps of ecosystem changes from 20,000 years ago to present and on special Arctic islands, like Wrangel
  • Scalable, 3D and zoomable maps on each sea area (use control key)
  • Links to major marine science research that reviews and discusses how the northern seas are changing

Endemic, Cultural Interpretations of Climate and the Land on the Arctic Coasts

Outside descriptions of Arctic cultures, sea areas and the environment do not really convey how the Indigenous and local communities in this region self-conceptualize their home worlds and marine coasts. We may receive reminders and reflections of such cultural understandings by carefully and respectfully learning from the knowledge holders.

Snowchange has been working for 18 years with the Igloolik Oral History Project led for the better part of 35 years by John Macdonald, Leah Otak and Igloolik Elders.

To gain understanding, it is worth quoting Macdonald (2004) at length, when he says: “A defining characteristic of all traditional Inuit societies was their ability, not only to comprehend the intricacies of Arctic weather and environment from their own spiritual and philosophical perspectives, but also to deal with it in practical terms. Inuit clothing and dwellings, for instance, relying solely on materials at hand stand as unsurpassed adaptations to the Arctic climate. In addition, their cosmology, cooperative social skills, comprehension of the land and its resources, and specialize d hunting techniques, all combined to make a people competent and comfortable in a remarkably harsh environment.

We are positioning Indigenous and local knowledge from all Arctic sea areas alongside science to offer users an authentic view of a specific marine ecosystem and comments.

We will include reviews of present and past climate and environmental events to the regional sea sections and they will be updated regularly.

What do these changes mean, for the people of the Arctic coasts and beyond?

What are messages from the Arctic seas?

We wish to encourage visitors and users to contemplate what these changes under way mean and how they are affecting the northern coastal communities. The portal is far from exhaustive, and we welcome comments and suggestions.

We hope you will find these “dispatches from the cold seas” interesting!

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