Graduation year: 2022
Semester/year area of interest proposed: Spring 2020
Major status: ENVS single major
Other major (if applicable):
Minor(s) (if applicable):
Nature operates at an extreme in the Arctic. Commonly characterized by its low temperatures, high levels of snow and ice, and its long winters, humans and animals alike have had to make numerous adaptations to survive in such a climate. While the northern circumpolar region remains a far-off, unexplored territory for the majority of people living to the south, an estimated ten million people live in the Arctic, with approximately ten percent of them being indigenous This includes groups such as the Inuit of Northern Canada, Alaska, and Greenland, the Sami of Scandinavia, the Nenet people of Russia, the Gwich’in of Northwestern Canada, the Evenki of Eastern Siberia, and numerous other peoples who have lived in the Arctic for as long as ten thousand years (Emelyanova 2019). Humans make up just a small number of the beings of the Arctic, as they share the region with a number of animals that have also adapted to and survived these extreme conditions. Polar bears, walruses, seals, reindeer, muskox, wolves, whales, fish, and other species have come to call the circumpolar north their home as well. These species have become an iconic part of the Arctic landscape, and each species brings a level of significance to the people living there as well. With the lack of adequate conditions for successful agriculture and abundant vegetation growth, these animals have become essential for the survival of Arctic peoples.
The relationships between humans and animals in the Circumpolar North go beyond simply sustenance. A number of animals are hunted and used as food, materials, and as a commodity that can be traded. The relationship between the Inupait people and the bowhead whale serve as a noteworthy example of this relationship, where the hunted whale has remained central to Inupait culture in sustaining important traditions and rituals to the extent that they often refer to themselves as the “People of the Whales” (Sakakibara 2011). There are also animals that have come to serve as companions, often to a multitude of groups across the Arctic, through different levels of domestication. Dogs in the Arctic have been domesticated, for purposes such as dog sledding and hunting, by groups like the Inuit. (Tester 2010). Reindeer herding has become a common practice in Scandinavia and Eurasia, with indigenous peoples such as the Sami and Nenet developing a largely nomadic way of life to accommodate the reindeers’ migration (Anderson et. al 2017). The culture, traditions, and practices of people practicing reindeer herding have thus been shaped largely by the reindeer. Additionally, the levels of domestication of companion animals of Arctic peoples, with examples such as the dog and reindeer, give insight into how the line between wild and time is drawn. Important human-animal relationships in a religious, spiritual, or cultural context are also common amongst peoples in the North. Animism is the belief that all beings in nature have a soul or spirit (Helander-Renvall 2009), and exists in a variety of Arctic cultures such as the reindeer herding Sami. Studying how beliefs, such as animism, of people in the Arctic impact the way they interact with animals is another context these relationships can be looked at. Religion and mythology across cultures in the Arctic can give reason for human actions such as animal sacrifice or the hunting of specific animals on a basis of belief (Pentikäinen 1996). Lastly, some animals may simply exist in their relationship with Arctic people as wildlife or simply part of the ecosystem as a whole.
These ecosystems are changing rapidly as a result of the consequences of anthropogenic climate change, with threats such as melting sea ice affecting species at a large range of trophic levels (Smetacok & Nicol, 2005). But climate change is not the only threat to Arctic peoples and the animals that greatly contribute to their survival and culture. Understanding these relationships is what also can help us understand other factors as to why they are being threatened today, and what can be done. Looking at how law and policy decisions, colonization, modernization, range fragmentation and other forces impact these relationships provides an explanation that goes further than just climate change (Krupnik 2018). For example, the Inuit people have had to not just adapt to changing ice conditions for hunting animals, such as the walrus which provide resources such as meat and blubber, (Gotfredsen et al. 2018) but also to the changing policy surrounding the hunting of whales, a large part of both their diet and culture. The Sami’s relationship with the reindeer have also vastly changed in recent decades. The introduction of the snowmobile in 1961 ushered in a completely new way of herding, eliminating the need for reindeer herders to walk alongside their reindeer during migration and reducing the need for a nomadic lifestyle. Additionally, the emergence of a market-based economy increased herd size, and the growing forest and tourist industries usurped the land once used for reindeer herding (Williams 2003). All of these changes are happening relatively fast, and are often outside of the control of the indigenous peoples of the Arctic and the animals that contribute to both their survival and culture. In order to preserve circumpolar indigenous peoples and their cultures, their relationships with animals must be preserved too.
- How do northern indigenous peoples use animals as a resource?
- How have animals been domesticated in the arctic and subarctic?
- What roles do animals play in different northern cultural traditions, beliefs, and practices?
- Who decides the laws and policies of northern circumpolar regions?
- How does the climate of the arctic and subarctic impact how animals and humans interact?
- How does climate change impact these interactions?
- What factors and considerations go into law and policy decisions?
- What aspects of a culture are lost when an important human-animal relationship is unable to be sustained?
- How are local arctic and subarctic people and animals impacted by laws and policies?
- How can relationships with animals and circumpolar peoples be preserved?
- How can laws and policies represent the best interest of circumpolar animals and people?
SOAN 306 (Social Permaculture) Spring 2022: Examing how humans engage with the ecological systems will give more understanding into the human-animal interactions in the Arctic.
SOAN 349 (Indigenous Peoples: Identities and Politics) Fall 2021: This course will provide insight into how indigenous peoples are impacted by policy decisions and can be applied a variety to case studies in the Arctic.
ENG 235 (Animal Rights in Literature) Spring 2019: This course analyzed the rights of animals across varying scales spatially and temporally, and I completed a final research paper on the Sami and reindeer relationship.
ENVS 499 (Independent Study) Spring 2021: Done partly on campus one semester and in Russia or another circumpolar country during or after my study abroad in St. Petersburg, Russia, I hope to gain knowledge with real experiences with human-animal relationships depending on what is possible.
Here are the required breadth courses I will include in my ENVS major/minor: BIO 201, GEOL 170, ECON 260, ENVS 460, HIST 261, PHIL 215. These are in addition to my ENVS core courses, and the area of interest courses I propose above.
Feedback to date
Faculty consultant: Kurt Fosso
Revisions to date
- Anderson, David G., Jan Peter Laurens Loovers, Sara Asu Schroer, and Robert P. Wishart. “Architectures of Domestication: On Emplacing Human‐animal Relations in the North.” Journal of the Royal Anthropological Institute 23, no. 2 (2017): 398-416.
- Gotfredsen, Anne, Birgitte Appelt, and Martin Hastrup. “Walrus History around the North Water: Human–animal Relations in a Long-term Perspective.” Ambio 47, no. Supplement 2 (2018): 193-212.
- Helander-Renvall, Elina. “Animism, Personhood and the Nature of Reality: Sami Perspectives.” Polar Record 46, no. 1 (2010): 44–56.
- Herva, Vesa-Pekka and Salmi, Anna-Kaisa. “Engaging with Sea and Seals: Environmental and Human-Animal Relations on the Northern Coast of the Early Modern Gulf of Bothnia.” Norwegian Archaeological Review 43, no. 2 (2010): 115-27.
- Krupnik, Igor. “‘Arctic Crashes:’ Revisiting the Human-Animal Disequilibrium Model in a Time of Rapid Change.” Human Ecology 46, no. 5 (2018): 685-700.
- Pentikäinen, Juha, ed. Shamanism and Northern Ecology. Berlin/Boston: De Gruyter, Inc., 1996. Accessed March 31, 2020. ProQuest Ebook Central.
- Sakakibara, Chie. “Climate Change and Cultural Survival in the Arctic: People of the Whales and Muktuk Politics.” Weather Climate And Society 3, no. 2 (2011): 76-89.
- Smetacek, V., Nicol, S. Polar ocean ecosystems in a changing world. Nature 437, 362–368 (2005). https://doi-org.library.lcproxy.org/10.1038/nature04161
- Tester, Frank James. “Can the Sled Dog Sleep? Postcolonialism, Cultural Transformation and the Consumption of Inuit Culture.” New Proposals 3, no. 3 (2010): 7-19.
- Williams, Scott M. “Tradition and Change in the Sub-Arctic: Sámi Reindeer Herding in the Modern Era.” Scandinavian Studies, vol. 75, no. 2, 2003, pp. 229–256.