Anthropology Field School Focuses on Community Based Research in the Yukon
This past spring, Assistant Professor of Anthropology at the University of Calgary, Sabrina Peric offered a Yukon-based field school for undergraduates entitled, “The Dynamic North: Climate, Economy and Culture in Anthropological Perspective.” The course lasted from May until June of 2016 and will continue to be offered every two years by the University of Calgary’s Group Study Program and the University of Calgary Department of Anthropology and Archaeology. (325)
The field school, unlike many others in the region, is not focused on the Natural Sciences or on Archaeology. Instead the school focuses on giving “field school students an opportunity to learn firsthand about the history, politics, environments, societies, and cultures of the Yukon, thereby attempting to remove a long-standing disconnect between residents of Canada’s southern regions and their northern counterparts,” and on giving, “students an opportunity to learn about community-based research in northern communities by introducing them to both northern research design and the ethical considerations of working in northern communities, both Indigenous and non-Indigenous” (329).
“The impacts of climate change,” Peric says, “are diverse, and so are the challenges they pose for communities, but one defining characteristic of these impacts on communities is that they are place specific and path-dependent (Hess et al., 2008). In other words, a community’s vulnerability will vary significantly from one location to another and will also depend greatly on their political and socioeconomic conditions” (329). Peric aims to make problematic the idea prevalent in Southern Universities, “that a researcher alone should formulate the main research questions, driven largely by her or his own interests,” (325). The field school emphasizes community-based research and pushes students, “to think about what community-based research look like and how researchers might respond to research questions formulated by Northerners, research designed by northern communities, and research carried out by Northerners in partnership with universities and other research institutions,” (325).
In its inaugural year, the field school was made up of a group of eleven students and one instructor, including two students from the region attending to the field school with financial aid from the University of Calgary Faculty of Arts and Department of Anthropology. The Faculty and the department plan to continue to do this and to prioritize applicants from the Kluane region and the traditional territories of the Kluane First Nation and the Champagne and Aishihik First Nations.
The field school included classroom discussions in Calgary about how climate change might increase social inequality, about competing definitions of climate change, and about scientific authority on climate change. The field school students attended the Yukon Food Security Round Table hosted by the Arctic Institute of Community-Based Research (AICBR), a Whitehorse based non-profit committed to “cross-sectoral partnerships with Indigenous, territorial, and federal governments, academics, and the private sector” in Whitehorse, Yukon (326). The students went on hikes in Miles Canyon to learn about environmental history of resource extraction, and a trip to the MacBride Museum of Yukon History to better understand official representations of history and settler colonial relations during the Klondike Gold Rush (326).
The majority of the duration of the field school was spent at Arctic Institute of North America’s Kluane Lake Research Station in southwest Yukon, “next to the largest non-polar ice sheet in the world and in the shadow of St. Elias Mountain Range (326). Peric describes this location as good location to learn about the “continued aftermath of colonial land policy” (326). Near the end of the trip, students spent three days in Alaska to learn about cross-border communities addressing cross-border challenges (328).
This is a summary article authored by Chenoa Sly. For further information, please see the original publication:
Peric, S. (2016). The Dynamic North: Northern Climate Change from an Anthropological Perspective. Arctic, 69(3), 325-329.