UAF graduate fisheries program will add traditional knowledge

Indigenous knowledge of fisheries will play a key role in graduate level studies expected to begin at the University of Alaska Fairbanks in fall 2021, with a goal of interesting more Alaska Native students in fisheries management careers.

The course of studies at the UAF College of Fisheries and Ocean Sciences will incorporate thousands of years of traditional knowledge of fisheries in Alaska into the curriculum, says Courtney Carothers, a UAF professor with a doctoral degree in anthropology from the University of Washington, and the principal investigator on the project. Carothers is developing the curriculum with Jessica Black, an assistant professor of Native studies and rural development. Black, who is Gwich’in, holds a doctorate in social work from Washington University in St. Louis, Missouri.

Funding for the program awarded Sept. 1 includes a $3 million, five-year grant from the National Science Foundation through its National Research Trainee (NRT) program. The NRT program is designed to encourage innovation in science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) graduate level education. Additional funds are being provided by NSF’s Navigating the New Arctic initiative.

The program is called “Tamamta,” which means “all of us” in the Sugpiaq and Yup’ik languages of Alaska Natives on the state’s southcentral coast.

“Tamamta addresses a huge program in Alaska – the exclusion and erasure of indigenous peoples and their knowledge systems,” Carothers said.

The first cohort of the program will be four to six graduate students, mostly seeking master’s and doctoral degrees in fisheries, Carothers said. Plans are to include an elder-in-residence program and cultural immersion experiences.

“It is our goal to elevate indigenous knowledge and pedagogies to their rightful places as intact systems that can be offered alongside Western marine sciences and fisheries,” said Black, in a statement released by UAF. “In this manner, we are not only honoring what Indigenous students bring into the classroom, but also actively decolonizing the way postsecondary education is offered.”

“One of the main points of reflection is indigenous knowledge (in fisheries studies) has been left off the table,” Carothers said. “The university teaches almost entirely western science. Some former and current students are finding our class environment unwelcoming. We are not trying to replace one with the other, but to include indigenous studies.”