Precious knowledge, passed down from his forebears and painstakingly honed through years of perilous hunts on the icy ocean from small, hand build boats of skins and wood.

Such expertise is often referred to as indigenous knowledge. Controversial at times and for many years largely unrecognized by western science, but now so much more in the limelight.

For the last few years, political calls for the inclusion of indigenous knowledge in all sorts of scientific and political endeavors have been issued by powerful institutions like the Arctic Council, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, the International Whaling Commission, the global Biodiversity Convention and others.

Still more scientists and decision makers argue that indigenous knowledge systems of the Arctic may help build stronger efforts against climate change, strengthen protection of peoples and communities and perhaps even inspire the entire world.

The problem is, that very few know exactly how to go about it. How does one square indigenous knowledge, most of it unwritten, with modern science as scientists with university degrees understand it?

When whaling was stopped

In the midst of this wave of interest, Eugene Brower’s experience stands tall.

In 1976, when he was a young whaling captain, the international community and the US government imposed an all-encompassing moratorium on whale-hunting in the waters that mean life and death to Eugene Brower’s community.

The authorities claimed that the Inuipiat whale hunters were grossly endangering the dwindling numbers of bowhead whales.

Under the ice

Brower and his fellow whalers challenged the official counts of bowhead whales. As one of many results, an envoy from the International Whaling Commission was sent to Utqiagvik, also known as Barrow, where the whalers showed him how the bowheads may dive under the polar sea-ice and become invisible to the inexperienced researcher.

The whalers knew that the bowheads breathe from pockets of air under ice-ridges or in narrow cracks between ice floes. They argued that the statistics were not adequate. Later, they added acoustical monitoring of the bowheads and further enhanced their input.

Eugene Brower was president of the Alaska Eskimo Whaling Commission for 41 years and saw how things began to work out. In Utqiagvik, scientists with university educations and the local Inupiat community began to join hands. In 1981, the North Slope Borough, the local municipal authority, opened its own Wildlife Department, possibly the only such municipal department in the US.

Today, five or six scientists and indigenous research coordinators work in tandem as they monitor hunting in the region. The accumulated data informs the relevant politicians and the quotas and other regulations from the State of Alaska or the federal government in Washington D.C.

Internationally, things also changed.

Read the original article here: Indigenous knowledge is moving towards the top of the Arctic agenda - ArcticToday