Indigenizing Arctic Research: A Collaboration to Promote More Inclusive and Equitable Arctic Research Planning


In September 2023, our team of three Arctic Indigenous scholars and three non-Indigenous scholars in the US and Canada was awarded $300,000 from the US National Science Foundation (NSF) for a two-year project entitled “Indigenizing Arctic Research.”


By Dalee Sambo Dorough (Iñupiaq), Former International Chair of the Inuit Circumpolar Council, Senior Scholar and Advisor, University of Alaska Anchorage and Melody Brown Burkins, UArctic Chair in Science Diplomacy and Inclusion, Vice-lead of the UArctic Thematic Network on Model Arctic Council, Director of the Institute of Arctic Studies, Adjunct Professor, Dartmouth College and Varvara Korkina Williams (Kumandin), Project Manager, Dartmouth College and Tatiana Degai (Itelmen), Assistant Professor, University of Victoria and Matthew Druckenmiller, Research Scientist, University of Colorado Boulder and Andrey Petrov, Director of ARCTICenter, Professor, University of Northern Iowa


The funding supports convenings of Arctic Indigenous Peoples in dialogues intended to guide international, high-profile Arctic research planning processes – specifically the 4th International Conference on Arctic Research Planning (ICARP IV) and 5th International Polar Year (IPY 5) – in their development of more inclusive, equitable, Indigenous-led, and Indigenous Knowledge-centered Arctic research protocols. Our application was co-developed through a series of informal online dialogues with several groups of Arctic Indigenous knowledge holders prior to submission, and we were also honoured to receive formal letters of support from three Arctic Indigenous Peoples’ organizations: the Inuit Circumpolar Council, the Saami Council, and the Aleut International Association.

Our activities to date and their positive reception have exceeded expectations. The NSF grant allowed us to host three events – a standing-room-only presentation and two convenings with over 30 Arctic Indigenous Knowledge holders – at the 2023 Arctic Circle Assembly (ACA) in Reykjavík, Iceland. Indigenous participants in these dialogues shared their clear intentions that the future of Arctic research and research priority-setting activities of ICARP IV and IPY 5 must prioritize (i) the forging of meaningful collaborations between Western and Indigenous Knowledge systems; (ii) the need to equitably fund Arctic Indigenous community engagement and knowledge co-production; and (iii) the recognition by Western research systems that Indigenous Knowledge must be represented and valued in all Arctic knowledge creation and informed Arctic policy. Aka Simonsen, Site Manager of the Kujataa UNESCO World Heritage site in Greenland, also shared the concerns of many in the Arctic about increasing “research fatigue” when these principles of respect and collaboration with Indigenous Knowledge holders are not recognized or practiced.

Another critical outcome of the two ACA convenings was the development of an Indigenous-led formal letter to the President of International Arctic Science Committee (IASC) who serves as the Chair of the ICARP IV International Steering Committee, emphasizing the interest of Arctic Indigenous Peoples in having opportunities for equal voice in the ICARP IV research priority-setting process. While the ICARP IV process already includes Arctic Indigenous Peoples organizations as founding members of the International Steering Committee, the letter asked that the process further elevate Indigenous representation in highest-level decision-making. This was a new request and has been well received by the ICARP IV leadership, launching several excellent conversations and ongoing dialogues.

In addition to supporting the development of the letter, the three Arctic Indigenous scholars leading our project team worked diligently in fall 2023 to build the number of Arctic Indigenous Knowledge holders directly engaged with the ICARP IV process. They distributed personal requests for Arctic Indigenous Peoples’ engagement on the six ICARP IV Research Priority Teams and followed up on all inquiries. We were thrilled to recently learn that 17% of all applications to the Research Priority Teams – almost one in five applicants – were from Arctic Indigenous Knowledge holders.

Our team looks forward to hosting continued conversations, presentations, and dialogues about our work. We will also arrange additional convenings of Arctic Indigenous Knowledge holders, including those now formally engaged in the ICARP IV Research Priority Teams, to see how they can best collaborate with IASC and ICARP IV leadership to support the work. We hope that this process, supporting the interest of Arctic Indigenous Peoples in holding structural, decision-making roles in programs for Arctic research planning, will become the norm for all future Arctic research and funding. We believe this approach is also one that aligns with Arctic Indigenous Peoples’ right to self-determination, as called for in the UN Declaration of Rights of Indigenous People (UNDRIP). Ultimately, we hope that our work to develop more inclusive, ethical, and equitable structures to engage both Western science and Indigenous Knowledge in ICARP IV and IPY 5 will support a paradigm shift in which all future Arctic research will prioritize the co-design, co-development, and co-production of knowledge that we need to address our shared challenges.