The University of Arizona

Political ecology and decolonial research: co-production with the Iñupiat in Utqiaġvik

Laura Zanotti, Courtney Carothers, Charlene Aqpik Apok, Sarah Huang, Jesse Coleman, Charlotte Ambrozek


Environmental social science research designs have shifted over the past several decades to include an increased commitment to multi-, inter-, and transdisciplinary team-based work that have had dual but complementary foci. These address power and equity in the substantive aspects of research, and also to adopt more engaged forms of practice, including decolonial approaches. The fields of political ecology, human geography, and environmental anthropology have been especially open to converge with indigenous scholarship, particularly decolonial and settler colonial theories and research designs, within dominant human-environmental social science paradigms. Scholars at the forefront of this dialogue highlight the ontological (ways of knowing), epistemological (how we know), and institutional (institutions of higher education) transformations that need to occur in order for this to take place. In this article we contribute to this literature in two ways. First, we highlight the synergies between political ecology and decolonial scholarship, particularly focusing on the power dynamics in research programs and historical legacies of human-environmental relationships, including those of researchers. Second, we explore how decolonial research pushes political ecologists and other environmental social scientists to not only consider adopting international and local standards of working with, by and for Indigenous Peoples within research programs but how this work ultimately extends to research and education within their home institutions and organizations. Through integrating decolonized research practices in the environmental social sciences, we argue that synthesizing multiple knowledge practices and transforming institutional structures will enhance team-based environmental social science work to improve collaboration with Indigenous scientists, subsistence practitioners, agency representatives, and sovereign members of Indigenous communities.

Keywords: Alaska; collaboration; co-production; decolonial; Indigenous Knowledges; Iñupiaq Peoples

Full Text:



Alhojärvi, T. and H. Sirviö. 2018. Affirming political ecology: seeds, hatchets and situated entanglements. Nordia Geographical Publications 47(5): 1-6.

Agrawal, A. 1995. Indigenous and scientific knowledge: some critical comments. Indigenous Knowledge Monitor 3(3): 1-6.

Agrawal, A. and C.C. Gibson. 1999. Enchantment and disenchantment: the role of community in natural resource conservation. World Development 27(4): 629-649.

Allen, J., K. Hopper, L. Wexler, M. Kral, S. Rasmus and K. Nystad. 2014. Mapping resilience pathways of Indigenous youth in five circumpolar communities. Transcultural Psychiatry 51(5): 601-631.

Armitage, D., R. de Loë and R. Plummer. 2012. Environmental governance and its implications for conservation practice. Conservation Letters 5(4): 245-255.

Balazs, C.L. and R. Morello-Frosch 2013. The three Rs: how community-based participatory research strengthens the rigor, relevance, and reach of science. Environmental Justice 6(1): 9-16.

Barker, J. 2017. Critically sovereign: Indigenous gender, sexuality, and feminist studies. Durham: Duke University Press.

Barnhardt, R. and A.O. Kawagley. 2005. Indigenous knowledge systems and Alaska Native ways of knowing. Anthropology and Education Quarterly 36(1): 8-23.

Battiste, M. 2011. Reclaiming Indigenous voice and vision. Vancouver: UBC Press.

Battiste, M. and J. Youngblood. 2000. Protecting Indigenous knowledge and heritage: a global challenge. Vancouver: UBC Press.

Berkes, F. 2004. Rethinking community-based conservation. Conservation Biology 18(3): 621-630.

Berkes, F. 2012. Sacred ecology. New York: Routledge.

Blackstock, K., L. Dinnie, R. Dilley, K. Marshall, J. Dunglinson, H. Trench, K. Harper, K. Finan, J. MacPherson, E. Johnston and A. Griffin. 2015. Participatory research to influence participatory governance: managing relationships with planners. Area 47(3): 254-260.

Blodgett, A.T., R.J. Schinke, D. Peltier, L.A. Fisher, J. Watson and M. Wabano. 2011. May the circle be unbroken: the research recommendations of aboriginal community members engaged in participatory action research with university academics. Journal of Sport and Social Issues 35(3): 264-283.

Bohensky, E.L. and Y. Maru. 2011. Indigenous knowledge, science, and resilience: what have we learned from a decade of international literature on integration? Ecology and Society 16(4).

Brunger, F. and T. Russell. 2015. Risk and representation in research ethics: the Nunatukavut experience. Journal of Empirical Research on Human Research Ethics 10(4): 368-379.

Campbell, L.M. 2005. Overcoming obstacles to interdisciplinary research. Conservation Biology 19(2): 574-577.

Carothers, C., T.L. Sformo, S. Cotton, J.C. George and P.A.H. Westley. 2019. Pacific salmon in the rapidly changing Arctic: exploring local knowledge and emerging fisheries in Utqiaġvik and Nuiqsut, Alaska. Arctic 72(3): 215-335.

Castleden, H., V.S. Morgan and C. Lamb. 2012a. I spent the first year drinking tea: exploring Canadian university researchers' perspectives on community-based participatory research involving Indigenous peoples. Canadian Geographer-Geographe Canadien 56(2): 160-179.

Castleden, H., M. Mulrennan and A. Godlewska. 2012b. Community-based participatory research involving Indigenous peoples in Canadian geography: Progress? An editorial introduction. Canadian Geographer-Geographe Canadien 56(2): 155-159.

CHIRP3. n.d. Collaboratively Harnessing Indigenous Principles, Protocols, and Practices (CHIRP3). Center for Indigenous Research, Science, and Technology (C-FIRST) at the Institute for Policy and Social Research. [accessed September 30, 2019].

Christensen, J. 2012. Telling stories: exploring research storytelling as a meaningful approach to knowledge mobilization with Indigenous research collaborators and diverse audiences in community-based participatory research. Canadian Geographer-Geographe Canadien 56(2): 231-242.

Collings, P. 2014. Becoming Inummarik: men's lives in an Inuit community. Montreal: McGill-Queen's Press.

Coombes, B., J.T. Johnson and R. Howitt. 2013. Indigenous geographies II: the aspirational spaces in postcolonial politics–reconciliation, belonging and social provision. Progress in Human Geography 37(5): 691-700.

Cote, M. and A.J. Nightingale. 2012. Resilience thinking meets social theory: situating social change in socio-ecological systems (SES) research. Progress in Human Geography 36(4): 475-489.

Cotton, S. 2012. Subsistence salmon fishing in Beaufort Sea communities. Master's thesis, University of Alaska Fairbanks.

Davis, A. and K. Ruddle. 2010. Constructing confidence: rational skepticism and systematic enquiry in local ecological knowledge research. Ecological Applications 20(3): 880-894.

Escobar, A. 2018. Designs for the pluriverse: radical interdependence, autonomy, and the making of worlds. Durham: Duke University Press.

Eigenbrode, S.D., M. O'Rourke, J. Wulfhorst, D.M. Althoff, C.S. Goldberg, K. Merrill, W. Morse, M. Nielsen-Pincus, J. Stephens and L. Winowiecki. 2007. Employing philosophical dialogue in collaborative science. Bioscience 57(1): 55-64.

Ens, E.J., P. Pert, P.A. Clarke, M. Budden, L. Clubb, B. Doran, C. Douras, J. Gaikwad, B. Gott, S. Leonard, J. Locke, J. Packer, G. Turpin and S. Wason. 2015. Indigenous biocultural knowledge in ecosystem science and management: review and insight from Australia. Biological Conservation 181: 133-149.

Foulks, E.F. 1989. Misalliances in the Barrow alcohol study. American Indian and Alaska Native Mental Health Research 2(3): 7-17.

Friedman Ross, L. 2010. 360 degrees of human subjects protections in community-engaged research. Science Translational Medicine 2(45): 1-4.

Friedman Ross, L., A. Loup, R.M. Nelson, J.R. Botkin, R. Kost, G.R. Smith Jr. and S. Gehlert. 2010. The challenges of collaboration for academic and community partners in a research partnership: points to consider. Journal of Empirical Research on Human Research Ethics 5(1): 19-31.

Gallopín, G. and H. Vessuri. 2006. Science for sustainable development: articulating knowledges. In Guimaraes-Pereira, M., A. Cabo and S. Funtowicz. (eds.). Interfaces between science and society. London: Greenleaf.

Goeman, M.R. and J.N. Denetdale. 2009. Native feminisms: legacies, interventions, and Indigenous sovereignties. Wicazo Sa Review 24(2): 9-13.

Gombay, N. and M. Palomino-Schalscha (eds.) 2018. Indigenous places and colonial spaces: the politics of intertwined relations. London: Routledge.

Haig-Brown, C. 2003. Creating spaces: testimonio, impossible knowledge, and academe. International Journal of Qualitative Studies in Education 16(3): 415-433.

Harcharek, P. J. and C.T. Rexford. 2015. Remembering their words, evoking kiŋuniivut: the development of the Iñupiaq learning framework. Journal of American Indian Education, 54(2): 9-28.

Harney, L., J. McCurry, J. Scott and J. Wills. 2016. Developing 'process pragmatism' to underpin engaged research in human geography. Progress in Human Geography 40(3): 316-333.

Hensley, W. L. I. 2009. Fifty miles from tomorrow: a memoir of Alaska and the real people. New York:

Sarah Crichton Books.

Holley, C., N. Gunningham and C.D. Shearing. 2013. The new environmental governance. London: Earthscan.

Housty, W.G., A. Noson, G.W. Scoville, J., Boulanger, R.M. Jeo, C.T. Darimont and C.E. Filardi. 2014. Grizzly bear monitoring by the Heiltsuk people as a crucible for First Nation conservation practice. Ecology and Society 19(2).

Ingalls, M. and R. Stedman. 2016. The power problematic: exploring the uncertain terrains of political ecology and the resilience framework. Ecology and Society 21(1).

Inuit Circumpolar Council-Alaska. 2015. Alaskan Inuit food security conceptual framework: how to assess the Arctic from an Inuit perspective. Summary report and recommendations report. Anchorage, Alaska.

Isler, M.R. and G. Corbie-Smith. 2012. Practical steps to community engaged research: from inputs to outcomes. Journal of Law Medicine and Ethics 40(4): 904-914.

Israel, B.A., A.J. Schulz, E.A. Parker and A.B. Becker. 1998. Review of community-based research: assessing partnership approaches to improve public health. Annual Review of Public Health 19(1): 173-202.

Jamsranjav, C., M.E. Fernández‐Giménez, R.S. Reid and B. Adya. 2019. Opportunities to integrate herders' indicators into formal rangeland monitoring: an example from Mongolia. Ecological Applications e01899.

Johnson, J.T., R. Howitt, G. Cajete, F. Berkes, R.P. Louis and A. Kliskey. 2016. Weaving Indigenous and sustainability sciences to diversify our methods. Sustainability Science 11(1): 1-11.

Khanna, S.K, N. Romero-Daza, S. Briller, and L. A. Bennett. 2018. Promoting applied scholarships for tenure and promotion. Consortium of Practicing and Applied Anthropology Programs. Available at:

Kirsch, S. 2010. Experiments in engaged anthropology. Collaborative Anthropologies 3(1): 69-80.

Koster, R., K. Baccar and R.H. Lemelin. 2012. Moving from research on, to research with and for Indigenous communities: a critical reflection on community-based participatory research. Canadian Geographer-Geographe Canadien 56(2): 195-210.

Kovach, M.E. 2000. Indigenous methodologies: characteristics, conversations, and contexts. Toronto: University of Toronto Press.

Lang, D.J., A. Wiek, M. Bergmann, M. Stauffacher, P. Martens, P. Moll, M. Swilling, and C.J. Thomas. 2012. Transdisciplinary research in sustainability science: practice, principles, and challenges. Sustainability Science 7(1): 25-43.

Larsen, S.C. and J.T. Johnson. 2012. In between worlds: place, experience, and research in Indigenous geography. Journal of Cultural Geography 29(1): 1-13.

Leach, M. 1992. Gender and the environment: traps and opportunities. Development in Practice 2(1): 12-22.

Leach, M. 1994. Rainforest relations: gender and resource use among the Mende of Gola, Sierra Leone. Edinburgh: Edinburgh University Press.

Lightfoot, S. 2016. Global Indigenous politics: a subtle revolution.London: Routledge.

Loh, J. and D. Harmon. 2005. A global index of biocultural diversity. Ecological Indicators 5(3): 231-241.

Loperena, C.A. 2016. A divided community the ethics and politics of activist research. Current Anthropology 57(3): 332-346.

Louie, D.W., Y. Poitras-Pratt, A.J. Hanson and J. Ottmann. 2017. Applying Indigenizing principles of decolonizing methodologies in university classrooms. Canadian Journal of Higher Education 47(3): 16-33.

Louis, R.P. 2007. Can you hear us now? Voices from the margin: using Indigenous methodologies in geographic research. Geographical Research 45(2): 130-139.

Low, S.M. and S.E. Merry. 2010. Engaged anthropology: diversity and dilemmas. An introduction to Supplement 2. Current Anthropology 51: S203-S226.

Mathews, D.L. and N.J. Turner. 2017. Ocean cultures: Northwest Coast ecosystems and Indigenous management systems. In Levin, P. and M. Poe (eds). Conservation for the Anthropocene ocean: Interdisciplinary science in support of nature and people. Oxford: Academic Press. Pp. 169-206.

Maffi, L. and E. Woodley. 2012. Biocultural diversity conservation: a global sourcebook. London: Routledge.

McGuirk, P. and P. O'Neill. 2012. Critical geographies with the state: the problem of social vulnerability and the politics of engaged research. Antipode 44(4): 1374-1394.

Menzies, C.R. 2015. Oil, energy, and anthropological collaboration on the northwest coast of Canada. Journal of Anthropological Research 71(1): 5-21.

Mistry, J., A. Berardi, E. Bignante and C. Tschirhart. 2015. Between a rock and a hard place: ethical dilemmas of local community facilitators doing participatory research projects. Geoforum 61: 27-35.

Moon, K. and D. Blackman. 2014. A guide to understanding social science research for natural scientists. Conservation Biology 28(5): 1167-1177.

Muhammad, M., N. Wallerstein, A.L. Sussman, M. Avila, L. Belone and B. Duran. 2015. Reflections on researcher identity and power: the impact of positionality on community based participatory research (CBPR) processes and outcomes. Critical Sociology 41(7-8): 1045-1063.

Mullins, P.R. 2011. Practicing anthropology and the politics of engagement: 2010 year in review. American Anthropologist 113(2): 235-245.

Mulrennan, M.E., R. Mark and C.H. Scott. 2012. Revamping community-based conservation through participatory research. Canadian Geographer-Geographe Canadien 56(2): 243-259.

Nadasdy, P. 2003. Hunters and bureaucrats: power, knowledge, and aboriginal-state relations in the southwest Yukon. Vancouver: UBC Press.

Napoleon, H. 1991. Yuuyaraq: the way of the human being. Fairbanks: Center for Cross-Cultural Studies, University of Alaska Fairbanks. Available at:

Nicholas, G. and J. Hollowell. 2007. Ethical challenges to a postcolonial archaeology: the legacy of scientific colonialism. In Hamilakis, Y. and P. Duke. (eds.). Archaeology and capitalism: from ethics to politics. Walnut Creek: Left Coast Press. Pp. 59-82.

Niezen, R. 2003. The origins of indigenism: human rights and the politics of identity. Berkeley: University of

California Press.

Osborne, T. 2017. Public political ecology: a community of praxis for earth stewardship. Journal of Political

Ecology 24: 843-860.

Pulalani Louis, R.P. 2007. Can you hear us now? Voices from the margin: using Indigenous methodologies in geographic research. Geographical Research 45(2): 130-139.

Petrov, A.N., S. BurnSilver, F.S. Chapin III, G. Fondahl, J. Graybill, K. Keil, A.E. Nilsson, R. Riedlsperger and P. Schweitzer. 2016. Arctic sustainability research: toward a new agenda. Polar Geography 39(3): 165-178.

Radcliffe, S.A. 2018. Geography and indigeneity II: critical geographies of Indigenous bodily politics. Progress in Human Geography 42(3): 436-445.

Raymond-Yakoubian, B. and J. Raymond-Yakoubian. 2017. Research processes and Indigenous communities in Western Alaska: workshop report. Prepared by Sandhill Culture Craft and Kawerak Social Science Program.

Raymond, H. 2007. The ecologically noble savage debate. Annual Review of Anthropology 36: 177-190.

Rodriguez, I. 2017. Linking well-being with cultural revitalization for greater cognitive justice in conservation: lessons from Venezuela in Canaima National Park. Ecology and Society 22(4).

Salzman, P.C. 2002. On reflexivity. American Anthropologist 104(3): 805-811.

Satterfield, T., R. Gregory, S. Klain, M. Roberts, and K.M. Chan. 2013. Culture, intangibles and metrics in environmental management. Journal of Environmental Management 117: 103-114.

Schneider, W. 2002. So they understand. Logan, Utah, Utah State University Press.

Schulz, K.A. 2017. Decolonizing political ecology: ontology, technology and 'critical' enchantment. Journal of Political Ecology 24(1): 125-143.

Sidorova, E. 2019. Circumpolar indigeneity in Canada, Russia, and the United States (Alaska): do differences result in representational challenges for the Arctic Council? Arctic 72(1): 71-81.

Sillitoe, P. 2016. Indigenous studies and engaged anthropology: the collaborative moment. London: Routledge.

Simpson, A. 2014. Mohawk interruptus: political life across the borders of settler states. Durham: Duke University Press.

Simpson, L.B. 2017. As we have always done: Indigenous freedom through radical resistance. Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press.

Suri, H. 2011. Purposeful sampling in qualitative research synthesis. Qualitative Research Journal 11(2): 63-75.

Sutherland, K.A. 2018. Conclusion: challenges and prospects for early career academics' futures in New Zealand and beyond. In K.A. Sutherland (ed.). Early career academics in New Zealand: Challenges and prospects in comparative perspective. Switzerland: Springer. Pp. 181-196.

Svarstad, H., T.A. Benjaminsen and J. Overå 2018. Power theories in political ecology. Journal of Political Ecology 25: 350-363.

Tengö, M., E.S. Brondizio, T. Elmqvist, P. Malmer and M. Spierenburg. 2014. Connecting diverse knowledge systems for enhanced ecosystem governance: the multiple evidence base approach. Ambio 43(5): 579-591.

Tuck, E. and K. W. Yang. 2012. Decolonization is not a metaphor. Decolonization: Indigeneity, Education and Society 1(1): 1-40.

Tuhiwai Smith, L. 1999 [2012]. Decolonizing methodologies: research and Indigenous peoples. London: Zed.

Tuhiwai Smith, L. 2014. Social justice, transformation and Indigenous methodologies. In Rinehart, R.E., K.N. Barbour and C.C. Pope (eds.). Ethnographic worldviews: transformations and social justice. Dordrecht: Springer. Pp. 15-20.

Turnbull, D. 2009. Futures for Indigenous knowledges. Futures 41(1): 1-5.

Velasquez Runk, J. 2014. Enriching Indigenous knowledge scholarship via collaborative methodologies: beyond the high tide's few hours. Ecology and Society 19(4).

Wilson, S. 2008. Research is ceremony: Indigenous research methods. Nova Scotia: Fernwood Publishing.

Wrakberg, U. and K. Granqvist. 2014. Decolonizing technoscience in northern Scandinavia: the role of scholarship in Sami emancipation and the indigenization of Western science. Journal of Historical Geography 44: 81-92.

Zanotti, L. and M. Palomino-Schalscha. 2016. Taking different ways of knowing seriously: cross-cultural work as translations and multiplicity. Sustainability Science 11(1): 139-152.