Changing times, changing stories: generational differences in climate change perspectives from four remote indigenous communities in Subarctic Alaska

Indigenous Arctic and Subarctic communities currently are facing a myriad of social and environmental changes. In response to these changes, studies concerning indigenous knowledge (IK) and climate change vulnerability, resiliency, and adaptation have increased dramatically in recent years. Risks to lives and livelihoods are often the focus of adaptation research; however, the cultural dimensions of climate change are equally important because cultural dimensions inform perceptions of risk. Furthermore, many Arctic and Subarctic IK climate change studies document observations of change and knowledge of the elders and older generations in a community, but few include the perspectives of the younger population. These observations by elders and older generations form a historical baseline record of weather and climate observations in these regions. However, many indigenous Arctic and Subarctic communities are composed of primarily younger residents. We focused on the differences in the cultural dimensions of climate change found between young adults and elders. We outlined the findings from interviews conducted in four indigenous communities in Subarctic Alaska. The findings revealed that (1) intergenerational observations of change were common among interview participants in all four communities, (2) older generations observed more overall change than younger generations interviewed by us, and (3) how change was perceived varied between generations. We defined “observations” as the specific examples of environmental and weather change that were described, whereas “perceptions” referred to the manner in which these observations of change were understood and contextualized by the interview participants. Understanding the differences in generational observations and perceptions of change are key issues in the development of climate change adaptation strategies.
Herman-Mercer, N., E. Matking, M. Laituir, R. Toohey, M. Massey, K. Elder, P. Schuster, and E Mutter
Ecology and Society