Effective local institutions for collective action in Arctic communities (1)

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Date: Summer 2005
From: Northern Review(Issue 25-26)
Publisher: Northern Review
Document Type: Article
Length: 5,730 words

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State and local government programs serving Native communities have long been criticized for being unresponsive to local needs, for being impervious to local involvement, and for fostering a culture of dependency. In response, Native communities throughout Alaska and the Arctic are seeking to strengthen their self-governing institutions and administrative processes. Advocated on grounds of efficiency and socio-political equity, the transfer of administrative authority has in some cases succeeded in mitigating conditions of rural poverty, proven less costly to state administration, and helped to reduce some of the conflict associated with local-state interaction.

The extent to which Native communities have achieved administrative control of their own affairs has varied, however, owing to conditions of community cohesion, political dynamics, financial constraints, and the general (un)willingness of some government agencies to relinquish administrative control. As such, many communities in rural Alaska continue to struggle.

Given the variability present among rural Native communities in Alaska, it remains unclear as to why some communities are proving more successful than others in the implementation and maintenance of local administrative institutions. The issues are complex, and no single answer prevails. Yet one thing is clear: those communities that have achieved some measure of success--whether in terms of maintaining viable mixed economies, service delivery, educational advancement, or preserving cultural values--have some form of effective local institutions for collective action. Less clear are the factors that foster collective action among community members and how effective local institutions are formed and sustained. Nor is it clear why some communities learn to resolve problems more effectively and can promote their own self-defined goals.

These unresolved questions served as a catalyst for a workshop on Effective Local Institutions for Collective Action in Arctic Communities. As an interdisciplinary inquiry into community-based forms of collective action in the Arctic, this workshop was organized in conjunction with the Public Administration Theory Network Conference, Masks and Boundaries, held at the University of Alaska Anchorage, June 19-21, 2003. Participants included twelve researchers and eighteen practitioners and community leaders.

Workshop Objectives

The overall objective of the workshop was to facilitate dialogue and collaboration among researchers, community leaders, and agency practitioners with a shared interest in understanding and fostering the socioeconomic development of communities in rural Alaska. Because effective self-governing institutions for collective action are the theoretical cornerstone for development, there are historical, cultural, political and institutional dimensions to identify. As such, this inquiry was necessarily interdisciplinary, and involved both theory and the practical experience of all those involved. At the same time this workshop was collaborative, in that it brought together community leaders, who have in-depth local knowledge and experience, with "outsiders" who could offer a broader comparative perspective.

In addition to the professional and practical development of all participants, the intended outcomes of the workshop included the following: (1) a basis for continuing dialogue between participating researchers, Native community leaders, and practitioners; (2) individual publications by participating researchers tempered by critical dialogue; (3) a coordinated research agenda leveraging the complementarities between the researcher's intellectual capital, community interests and concerns, and practitioner's evolving praxis; and (4) a summary workshop report.


Participants were invited to take part in the three-day Public Administration conference, and to spend the last day in a more focused discussion on the requirements for effective collective action. The format of the workshop included free-ranging participation and facilitated discussions on focused topics between researchers and invited panel members representing community leaders, practitioners, and senior scholars. The six-hour workshop was opened with a summary paper prepared by Dr. Sharman Haley from the University of Alaska Anchorage, who also served as Session Chair. This prologue framed the discussion topics for the day by summarizing some of the current literature pertaining to collective action. Three panels of invited community and agency representatives set out their perspectives and priorities, with discussion and comment. This was followed by two break-out sessions--to identify commonalities among the various interests and insights and to draw out ideas on how these issues might be integrated into a coordinated research agenda. The two break-out groups were comprised of a cross-section of community leaders, agency practitioners, the organizing committee, and senior scholars, each with a researcher and assistant assigned to facilitate and record. The outcomes of these sessions were then communicated back to the group. A final panel of a university researcher, an agency practitioner, and a community leader provided synthesis, perspectives and comments on the workshop proceedings. The workshop concluded with a round of general discussion and final comments by all participants.

Presentation of Findings

At the outset, workshop participants raised several fundamental questions. First, Lora Johnson noted the importance of clarifying the term "institution." Working from a general definition, the planning committee generally viewed an institution as humanly devised constraints that structure interaction. These constraints can be either formal (i.e., rules, laws, constitutions, etc.) or informal (i.e., norms of behaviour, conventions and self-imposed codes of conduct), and they organize repetitive activities whose outcomes affect some individuals and potentially affect others. (3)

While participants were agreeable to this definition, Lora Johnson made the important point that for far too long institutions have been perceived by Native communities as something imposed from the outside rather than something generated locally. In these cases, the imposition of external institutions has served to reinforce government's hegemonic role in community affairs by embedding Western norms and behaviours into local administrative processes, particularly in education and resource management programs. However, it was also noted that fundamental changes are now occurring as communities secure more autonomy in decision-making through the implementation of locally derived institutions. Thus in order to attain a more comprehensive understanding of how institutions function, institutions must be seen as evolving processes that respond to the needs of community members, the means by which those needs are fulfilled, as well as the consequences community members are willing to endure (both culturally and politically) in their pursuits. In the end it was agreed that an "institution" should be viewed not as a "thing" but rather a process where diverse groups, with often-conflicting interests, can come together in an equitable environment to make durable agreements.

This discussion then raised the related question as to what constitutes institutional "effectiveness." For instance, when it comes to service delivery, it is often argued that communities themselves have a distinct advantage over distant, more centralized authorities. This argument is often made in debates concerning the management of wildlife resources, where the motives and management practices exercised by local institutions are seen as being more responsive to local livelihoods and changes in environmental conditions, thus more "effective." From a more pragmatic point of view, transferring administrative responsibility to the local level has in some cases proven more cost "effective" given that local people are already in place to assume administrative responsibilities. But the question remains, who defines effectiveness and how will it be measured? Related to these discussions was the question of whether existing institutions that define the relationship between local communities and government agencies are currently acceptable for development, or whether there is a need for dramatic legal changes to redefine the terms of those relationships.

Through panel presentations and group discussions it became clear that communities and state agencies maintain fundamentally different interpretations of what constitutes institutional effectiveness because they have different goals and values. For example, in one community an explicit goal across the range of programs was the maximum disbursement of employment opportunities among the greatest number of community members. This might include job-sharing or job-rotation programs where several community members gain from a single employment opportunity. However, for government agencies, "effectiveness" is generally evaluated in terms of meeting program objectives, including meeting project timelines, budget demands, transparency of fiscal allocations, and other quantifiable indicators. When evaluated by these criteria, communities often find themselves at odds with agency representatives.

Given there were various interpretations of institutional "effectiveness," a single definition was not reached. However, and perhaps more importantly, several factors were identified that, if not considered, would certainly limit any chance of achieving institutional effectiveness regardless of whose criteria are applied. Thus by the close of the workshop there was fairly broad agreement on several major themes where solutions may lie. These thematic areas include the necessity of local autonomy in decision-making, fiscal responsibility, access to education and training, the development of effective means of inter- and intra-communication, and mutual respect for values and culture. To achieve each of these outcomes, all workshop participants agreed on the importance of fostering strong leadership skills among Native youth, while staying true to Native cultural and traditional values.

Factors Contributing to Effective Institutions for Collective Action

Capacity to Plan Effectively

Native communities in rural Alaska have undergone considerable change over the past few decades. These changes, resulting from both internal and external factors, have greatly affected their political, social, cultural, and economic stability. Various problems stemming from legislative assaults on Native sovereignty, together with a general lack of economic opportunities, now permeate community life. These existing conditions have become increasingly complex as new concerns and challenges continue to confront Native leaders.

Responding to these conditions, as well as the demands made by Native communities, government authorities are beginning (albeit slowly) to transfer administrative responsibilities directly to local levels. This responsibility has, however, proven problematic for many Native communities. Among the many challenges that face these demographically small populations is the difficulty in finding among their own ranks enough trained and talented individuals to assume administrative responsibility. In fact, the lack of administrative capacity among community members was identified as one of the most significant challenges affecting local administration. While acknowledging that community members possess a high degree of local knowledge, as well as an intimate understanding of internal socio-political processes, the lack of administrative experience can, according to workshop participants, hinder local efforts. Specific to wildlife management, Taylor Brelsford identified the complexity of demands placed on community wildlife managers. Not only are these individuals expected to have an intimate knowledge of local resources, but they must also possess the necessary management skills to deal effectively with multiple government agencies. These skills include knowledge of government regulations, environmental policies, and some measure of technical and scientific literacy. Believed to lack a sufficient understanding of policy and administrative procedures, agency representatives noted some reluctance among their colleagues to devolve true authority to local levels in fear of uninformed outcomes. In such cases these individuals feel justified in accepting only the recommendations from communities that conform to predetermined government planning objectives. Thus without a track record of local administration, government agencies feel they are being asked to take a leap of faith in those who have limited administrative experience.

While the lack of formal education and administrative experience in some cases represents a legitimate challenge for Native communities, in other cases government agencies misinterpret conflicting goals for a lack of local administrative capacity. For instance, it was noted by several community members that in cases where government agencies disagree with community decisions, an assumption is made by government that communities simply lack the necessary skills and training to make effective decisions. However, what may seem to be a lack of capacity, believed remedied by training and education, may in reality be a response to conflicting goals and personal objectives based largely on cultural and sociopolitical differences. Taylor Brelsford again addressed this point by noting the challenges Native communities face when forced to function within an imposed institutional and statutory framework of government agencies. Owing to the institutional and ideological structure of existing programs, Native communities are forced to participate in a process that is in many ways inappropriate when implemented locally. This creates a significant dilemma where there is a need for community representation, but concerns over such engagement has reduced the willingness of some community members to participate. This conflict is, however, rarely recognized by government agencies or, for that matter, articulated by community representatives. Due to these internalized misunderstandings it often appears that communities lack a genuine interest in decision-making, while community members grow increasingly frustrated over what they perceive as the continued denial of local concerns. Together these misconceptions challenge an already formidable process.

But questions remain: How can communities become more autonomous in decision-making? How can the existing skills of community members be used to create more effective institutions when dealing with government agencies?

Cherilyn Holter of Hydaburg suggested that one possible solution is to foster the traditional leadership skills among Native youth. If this can be accomplished, those communities who may be losing strong leaders could reconnect with tradition while meeting the contemporary demands of modern day Alaska. She noted that ownership of such a process is key, and that we cannot expect traditional institutions to resurface automatically in the wake of government withdrawal, or as the colonial experience has shown, to be imposed from above. Rather, success will depend on the rebuilding of trust between Native communities and government agencies. Through a genuine commitment by government, together with a shared sense of responsibility among Native peoples, communities and government agencies can begin working together to generate and sustain effective forms of collective action.

Chief Evon Peter of Arctic Village echoed these requirements and added that for Native self-determination to become a reality, communities must become more self-reliant and more accountable to tribal members. It was noted that agencies can help facilitate this process by exercising greater consistency when working with Native communities. This involves making long-term commitments to working with community leaders and to follow-through on program and project goals. Mike Irwin agreed and felt that if these goals could be accomplished, Native communities could make a significant advancement towards self-determination and self-reliance, while strengthening their relationship with government agencies.

Fiscal Responsibility

The fiscal relationship between Native communities and government agencies was identified as being fundamental to the ultimate realization of Native autonomy and self-determination. However, owing to fiscal limitations, leaders of Native communities feel hampered by government's failure to allocate sufficient investment in response to the new demands Native communities now face. This situation is certainly not unique to Alaska in that the devolution of program administration has often resulted in heightened responsibility for Native communities without the appropriate budget or resources to make meaningful decisions. Thus by failing to allocate sufficient funds for local administration, tension between communities and government agencies persists, and Native leaders continue to find themselves labouring in "financial straitjackets" when it comes to policy implementation and administration. One community representative expressed considerable frustration over government's demand for intense, and what was perceived as unfair, financial scrutiny. Well aware of the need for accountability, community leaders feel they are being treated as if they are incapable of managing their own projects--"After all, if communities screw up, it's us who suffer."

If the transfer of administrative authority is to have any significant impact, Native communities who have been delegated new responsibilities require the authority and decision-making power to implement change. However, owing to the many conditions attached to government funding, communities have found few opportunities to implement alternatives to existing government programs. As such, government's "carrot-and-stick" approach to funding is seen to be perpetuating not only the goals of government institutions but also the expression of government values. From the community perspective, this clearly exemplifies government's desire to maintain existing paternal conditions.

While support in the form of financial resources is beneficial to local institutional development, community leaders also noted that the quality of the support given by government to local initiatives is equally important. It is the decentralization of authority, the reliability of support, and the flexibility of institutional structures that will ultimately determine local-level success. A demonstration of respect by government for local accomplishments, together with public endorsement of local authority will directly and indirectly encourage others to accept them as legitimate institutions. The successful development of local institutions is therefore dependent upon a strong commitment by government, as well as a collective sense of responsibility for shared objectives. One example of such an approach is the Native Movement <http://www.nativemovement.org> where communities and state agencies are working together to bring about fundamental change in Native education. This example demonstrates that effective institutional development often requires individuals and organizations to learn new patterns of behaviour that result in an alteration in the way in which education is planned and carried out, from local to state levels.

Access to Education and Training

Education has long been considered essential to sustaining economic growth and alleviating many of the social and environmental pathologies associated with poverty. Serving not only as a key indicator for social development, education is considered integral to community self-sufficiency and personal well-being. Unfortunately, access to education and training is at a critical juncture in Alaska, particularly among rural Native communities. Facing a litany of challenges--severe budgetary constraints, increasing enrolment demands, spiralling education costs, drastic reductions in state and federal funding, etc.--Native communities now stand at risk of being further marginalized by the mainstream educational system.

For Native leaders who represent communities where education and employment levels are low, access to post-secondary education is considered paramount, given community aspirations for self-government and local control of programs and services. It is in this context that workshop participants identified education as a principal means to break the pattern of dependency long inherent in state and federal policy and to empower community members to become socially and economically self-reliant. Grounded in the premise of emancipation, the value of education is not in facilitating change per se, but rather in providing a greater range of options for community members to decide upon in the future.

That said, workshop participants identified a number of social, cultural, economic and geographical obstacles challenging Native access to secondary and post-secondary education. Foremost among the many challenges identified was the general requirement that Native students, with whatever financial resources they can secure, leave their home communities to attend urban institutions. Common to other Native students throughout the North, the success rates in their first year of college or university have generally been quite low compared to non-Native students. This issue, however, appears to be quite elusive as there are few published or comprehensive reports on attrition and completion rates for Native students in Alaska even though the anecdotal information is well recognized. (4)

While causal factors abound, several workshop participants attribute the limited success rate of Native students to the transitional challenges associated with relocation and the risks involved with altering or cutting ties with a spouse, family, and friends. Because social networks in urban areas tend to be more fluid than in rural Native communities, altering social ties with family and friends has proven to carry considerable consequences for Native youth. Some Native student participants noted that they had strong support from family and friends at the beginning of their studies but that support tended to fade as more time was spent away from the community. Although self-motivation can help to overcome many of these challenges, more often than not these pressures result in the abandonment of studies.

Concerns were also expressed by Native leaders who continue to see students, who successfully complete their training outside the community, remain outside rather than returning home to live and work after graduation. Consequently, not only do significant financial resources leave the community, but also the knowledge, expertise, and mentorship skills in which resources have been invested are lost to the detriment of the community and its people. The lack of role models among community members is of paramount concern to Native leaders who recognize that personal motivations with regard to social goals arise largely from comparisons we make between others and ourselves. Forming the underlying incentive to achieve certain status, these comparisons can often motivate Native youth to pursue professional opportunities. However, this issue is quite complex, as one Native student shared:

"I was speaking with a friend and she is not going to get a college education because she'll be expected to use it and to do that she'll have to leave home because there are no opportunities to use a college education at home."

"I left to go to school. When I go back they now look at me as an outsider and feel I'm taking their jobs."

Lacking professional mentors, Native youth, as well as many community members, are failing to see the benefits associated with post-secondary training. As a result, Native communities continue to be challenged by a lack of technically trained personnel who are capable of assuming key administrative positions.

Additional educational challenges that were identified include

1. The financial and social costs to individuals and communities to send students outside to obtain a good education.

2. The low graduation rates among Native students.

3. The loss of the brightest students who leave to take up studies, and who never return to the community.

4. The cost of training non-Native teachers and administrators to meet local needs.

5. The loss of Native role models.

The lack of access to information, training, services, and general opportunities are significant barriers to Native communities achieving social and economic equity. These issues are certainly not new to Native leaders and local education officials who continue to try to overcome the multifaceted problems associated with Native education. One suggestion for reversing this situation was to refocus local education to meet the unique needs of the people it is serving, as compared to Western cultural models that emphasize assimilation. Speaking as an educator for thirty-three years and who also worked with the Bureau of Indian Affairs boarding school system, Cherilyn Holter noted that students who failed to connect with the Western educational system disappeared from view and did not fare well in life. Learning from the mistakes of the past, Native communities and educators should use their experience and understanding of local conditions to promote fundamental changes in education delivery.

Despite the many challenges noted above, Native leaders recognize that a higher standard of living, increased self-sufficiency, and enhanced personal well-being can be attained in part through education and training opportunities. While some advancements have been made in recent years, it was agreed that an even higher priority must now be given to education and training (in all forms of delivery and content) if rural Native communities are to take advantage of the economic opportunities that are becoming available in this rapidly changing state economy.

Inter- and Intra-Communication

As Native communities achieve a greater role in the administration of local affairs, community leaders are being called upon to implement effective and inclusive approaches to consultation and decision-making. Scott Ruby spoke of the need to create internal mechanisms within communities in order to overcome divisions, leading to common ground and shared objectives. Acknowledging the need for community consultation, Chief Evon Peter reminded workshop participants that Native communities are not homogenous, but rather represent a range of ideological positions. In any community, whether Native or non-Native, there are generally several subgroups with different and often contradictory interests. Rather than existing in a socio-political or economic vacuum, Native communities have in operation a number of autonomous and independent groups with fundamentally different interests in issues ranging from politics to environmental management. These differences, and the conflicts that often arise from them, can be attributed to a range of variables including age, gender, religion, kinship, world view, education and economic differentiation.

As a result of these differences, Joel Neimeyer drew attention to the fact that some segments of the community are rarely heard by agencies and in most cases a single point of contact is made where agencies consult. Even within relatively small Native communities, the inclusion of some interests has generally meant the exclusion of others. Despite assertions that community diversity can be accounted for more readily by local administration, some voices often go unheard or even avoided as their inclusion may prove too challenging to local administrative efforts. Thus, final decisions often remain reflective of only a few and frequently the most accessible individuals at that time. Consequently, by failing to generate greater community involvement, project planning is often perceived by community members as yet another top-down approach to development. This is a critical point in that both the operational and the theoretical question challenging local administration lies in the issue of representation, as representation is the main source of legitimacy. As such, Joel Neimeyer and others stressed the need, from an agency perspective, for internal consultative mechanisms to be created that are capable of generating consensus among community members for effective decision-making.

Cultural Awareness

While the transfer of administrative responsibility to the local levels holds promise for constructive engagement between Native communities and government agencies, historical conflicts continue to limit their overall effectiveness and equitable collaboration has yet to be achieved. Because communities and agencies often maintain fundamentally different interests, power struggles often emerge over the priorities and procedures by which programs function. This often involves the control of financial, institutional, and political resources but, as Dr. Oscar Kawagley noted, this also involves struggles over who holds the power to determine what knowledge is of most value and how such knowledge will or will not be used in decision-making. This includes the representation of reality and the particular ways of legitimizing and de-legitimizing systems of knowing. Unfortunately the notion of Indigenous knowledge has, in most cases, become a subjugated knowledge and rendered marginal to Western ontologies. Because the institutional structure of local-state relations rests in a Western conception of organization and management, these processes now function in the language and ideology of the dominant culture.

Given the persistent conditions of estrangement and social distrust, although often subtle and unspoken, the relationship between Native communities and government agencies continues to be divisive. As a result, interaction between community members and agency representatives remains infrequent and in some cases highly charged, and the social trust that most observers agree to be a necessary condition for institutions to function effectively remains absent. It is this ongoing conflict, based largely on divergent value systems, that has eminently affected community-agency cooperation and has limited the possibilities for equitable exchange among representatives.

If conditions are to be improved, workshop participants noted the necessity of recognizing that we all come with our own institutional and cultural baggage. Indeed, a genuine awareness of one's own culture as well as the cultural background of others must be acknowledged. The uncritical habit (including perceptions, attitudes, assumptions and beliefs) that justifies inequity and exploitation by accepting the existing order of things as given must be avoided. This will require

* Openness to change on the part of both communities and government agencies;

* Respect for and acknowledgement of cultural diversity;

* Greater awareness of the cultural norms of others as well as one's own; and

* An inclusive and non-judgmental approach to dealing with one another.

An additional requirement that was identified was the need for Native peoples to take lead administrative roles in government agencies. This cross-cultural interaction was considered necessary to mitigate many of the cultural differences that have long challenged effective collaboration. This form of interaction also supports the argument made by advocates of Indigenous self-determination who stress the imperative of Indigenous representation in public institutions if problems of institutional inequity are to be resolved.

Collaborative Research

The issue of research proved sensitive for many workshop participants. Having witnessed some of the negative, although often-unforeseen, impacts of research, Native leaders are hesitant to open their doors to university researchers once again. In some cases, research has been avoided due to the way in which some findings have been used against Native communities in the past. Because research has the potential to produce, reflect, and reinforce beliefs and values, it can, in some cases, undermine the material, ideological, and epistemological foundations of Native value systems, leading to further cultural denigration. As such, many Native communities see their participation in research as a potential threat to local goals.

Even when conducted under the label of community-based or participatory research, the methods used by researchers have often misrepresented "participation" for what remains extractive research. That is, despite the rhetoric of community involvement, "participation" has, in many cases, been co-opted by government and academic institutions who have a very limited notion of community involvement. Used as a catch-phrase, community participation is all too often being applied superficially by researchers holding firmly to "get-in-and-get-out" research methodologies. Because the level of community involvement seldom exceeds the administration of questionnaires or surveys, rarely is there a transfer of skills that enables community members to continue the research once academics leave the community nor has there been an empowering of communities through the results of the research. This is critical to the issue of community ownership in that, by failing to demonstrate the relevance of conducting research, community-based research is given little social value and receives little sustained attention. Thus by failing to transfer the necessary skills and experiences to community researchers, the dichotomy between those who produce knowledge through research and those who are most affected by it remains, thereby reinforcing many of the dependencies that have long worked against Native communities seeking change.

An additional problem with academic research is the language and discourse associated with the research process. For instance, Dr. Oscar Kawagley discussed how common terms used by academics, such as "sustainability," lack cultural equivalents for Native peoples. Rooted in academic research is a fundamental ideology that remains firmly grounded in Western culture. By imposing concepts that originate in the Western research paradigm, the actual relationship that exists between Native peoples and the world in which they reside is often misrepresented. In such cases, the imposition of concepts that are at odds with the way in which Native peoples view the world places some of their most fundamental values at considerable risk.

While many of the legacies of past research remain, workshop participants acknowledged that equitable partnerships between communities and universities can result in more positive outcomes in the future. Through a new vision of collaborative research, communities and universities can develop shared research agendas that achieve mutual goals and solutions. This will require a reorientation of research in which it moves from the extraction of information to what Dr. Kawagley referred to as "a humble quest for knowledge." Thus research for the sake of research must be avoided by creating alliances between communities and universities. One area in which universities can make a significant and immediate impact would be to explore the positive examples of communities and agencies working together. Conducting this type of research would both enable communities and agencies to avoid many of the mistakes made in the past and facilitate the application of novel approaches being used elsewhere. Approached in this way, research can be used as a tool to take stock of the progress made by communities and government agencies as they work together to meet common goals. Other priority research areas that were identified are listed below.

Recommendations for Future Collaborative Research

1. Identify the systematic, institutional, and cultural barriers that may undermine the effective community-agency interaction.

2. Explore the causal factors behind successful and unsuccessful community projects.

3. Provide a reference of communities that have been successful at program administration.

4. Identify the criteria used by communities and agencies for determining institutional effectiveness.

5. Explore how the formal and informal institutions, which have long existed at the local level, have or have not adapted to the organizational requirements associated with new administrative responsibilities.

6. Examine what new institutions could enhance local participation in decision making, and how these local institutions can collaborate with government agencies to meet shared objectives.

7. Explore whether or not the devolution of administrative responsibility to the local level has led to greater equity between local-state authorities.

8. Explore how the existing skills and capacities of Native communities, including traditional ecological knowledge, can contribute to agency objectives.

9. Explore ways to help ensure that educational advances will result in meaningful long- and short-term employment for community members.

10. Identify mechanisms to weave the cultural needs, values, and knowledge of community members into education and curriculum.


So why are some small communities more successful than others in developing sustainable mixed economies, with good public services, and positive social outcomes for residents of all ages? What are the factors that foster effective local institutions? And how can communities learn to address problems and promote their own community goals more effectively? These are some of the questions explored during this one-day workshop that brought community leaders, agency representatives, and university researchers together to share experiences and explore options for positive change.

This initiative successfully identified many of the political elements associated with institutional change (e.g., who stands to benefit), the bureaucratic orientations that shape local-state interaction, and many of the cultural factors that promote and limit equitable collaboration. By identifying and discussing the requirements of effective local institutions for collective action in Arctic communities, the intellectual and experiential capital of all those involved has been advanced considerably. By exploring the unique needs, concerns, and priorities of rural Native communities in Alaska, and the government agencies that serve them, we are in a better position to address the challenges that limit mutual learning and constructive exchange. The relationships forged during the workshop will promote a more engaged approach to community development in the future.

Thematic Areas Addressed:

1. Local autonomy in decision-making.

2. Fiscal responsibility.

3. Access to education and training.

4. Effective inter- and intra-communication.

5. Mutual respect for values and culture.

6. Fostering strong leadership skills among Native youth, while staying true to Native cultural and traditional values.

7. Collaborative research.

David C. Natcher, Ph.D, (2) Memorial University of Newfoundland; Sharman Haley, Ph.D., University of Alaska Anchorage; Gary Kofinas, Ph.D., University of Alaska Fairbanks; Walt Parker, Chair of the Arctic Council Circumpolar Infrastructure Task Force Arctic Council Sustainable Development Working Group

(1) This Workshop was supported by the National Science Foundation Arctic Social Sciences Program, Grant No. 0324227.

(2) Correspondence can be directed to Dr. David C. Natcher, Canada Research Chair in Aboriginal Studies, Memorial University of Newfoundland, St. John's, NL., A1C 5S7, (709) 737-6116 or <dnatcher@mun.ca>.

(3) Adapted from F. Berkes and C. Folke (eds.), Linking Social and Ecological Systems: Management Practices and Social Mechanisms for Building Resilience (Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press, 1998).

(4) It was noted that in northwest Alaska the dropout rate for students moving from 9th to 12th Grades is as high as 70 per cent.

Source Citation

Source Citation   

Gale Document Number: GALE|A141294104