Interview with Shari Gearheard, June of 2008.
CA-CP: What is the focus of your research?
Dr. Gearheard: I work with Inuit hunters and elders to document
their knowledge and observations of the environment and environmental
change. I work mainly in the Baffin
region of Nunavut, Canada,
and I live in an Inuit community called Clyde
River, on Baffin
Island. I work with
scientists as well and coordinate projects that bring Inuit and scientists
together to design and carry out research.
I really enjoy the challenge of bringing different skills, experiences,
and perspectives together, and I love working with multicultural,
multidisciplinary teams. I’ve worked on
many different projects with Inuit over the years, from grizzly bears to walrus
to vegetation to weather. Most recently,
I’ve been working on several projects about sea ice, working in Nunavut,
Greenland, and Alaska. Also, I have worked with different
technologies to document and communicate Inuit knowledge of the environment
including CD-ROM technology and interactive GPS.
Dr. Gearheard: Inuit and their ancestors have lived in the Arctic for thousands of years. Inuit elders today have spent a lifetime
living on the land. Inuit hunters have
traditional knowledge passed onto them from older people and they combine that
knowledge with their own experiences and skills. Through a close relationship with the natural
environment, and through constant observation and use, Inuit have a complex
understanding of environmental patterns, processes, and changes.
Inuit and scientists can help each other in the quest
to understand how the Arctic is changing. They use different knowledge and different
tools, but both contribute very important information. For example, scientists use satellites to
study sea ice. This allows them to see
sea ice on a very large scale, over the entire Arctic,
and how sea ice margins are advancing or retreating. Inuit study sea ice through intense use
(travel, hunting, fishing) and have knowledge and observations at the local and
regional scale. Inuit have constant and
direct contact with sea ice – touching, tasting, and probing it to get detailed
information. Combining these different
scales, tools, and methods from both scientific and Inuit knowledge, we can get
a more complete picture of how sea ice is changing.
CA-CP: How can Inuit and scientists work together to
understand environmental change?
What can people in the United
States learn from this kind of
Dr. Gearheard: There are local experts everywhere who have knowledge
about their environment and who can teach us very important skills. Experienced farmers, fisherpeople, pilots,
foresters, ski patrol, and ranchers are just a few examples of people who have
close relationships with the environment and have direct observations about how
the environment has changed over time.
Many scientists are already partnering with people who have local
knowledge and we could increase these collaborations. The more knowledge and experience we can pull
together in studying the environment, the more complete picture we can assemble
about how the environment is changing.
All photos Copyright Shari Gearheard. Used with permission. See more photos here.
For more information about indigenous peoples and Arctic change visit:
Indigenous Peoples SecretariatArctic Climate Impact Assessment
Inuit Circumpolar Council
Exchange for Local Observations and Knowledge of the Arctic
Read more about Dr. Gearheard's projects at NSIDC here