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Viewpoint one-on-one from Fairbanks, Alaska with Mr. Richard Hum of the Alaska Native Knowledge Network.

 

Q:  Please tell us about yourself and the path that led you to the Alaska Native Knowledge Network?

Hum: As a non-Native my path to ANKN is perhaps a bit unorthodox. I grew up in southern and central California and spent nearly everyday of my life in the ocean until I was in my mid twenties. Those early experiences taught me a deep respect for what patient observation can teach a person about their immediate environment and the broader world around them. I earned a Bachelors Degree at the University of California at Santa Cruz in Earth Science by studying sediment transport along high energy beaches and moved to Utah to work as a geologist but quickly moved to Alaska and had the amazing opportunity to learn the art of running sled dogs from a master in the village of Teller on the western end of the Seward Peninsula. At the same time I became deeply involved in educational reform movements to develop cultural relevant, place-based curriculum appropriate to rural Alaska-- with a particular interest in the role of distance communication tools to builds communities of practice around these types of reforms. From there it was a fairly natural progression into my current role with ANKN.

Q: Tell us about the Alaska Native Knowledge Network: its creation (who created it and why) and its programs, initiatives and resources, especially those pertaining to Alaska Native culture and science.

Hum: ANKN was conceptually developed by Angayuqaq Oscar Kwageley and Ray Barnhardt of the University of Alaska Fairbanks department of Cross-Cultural Studies. Through the hard work of Sean Topkok and a host of others between 1995 and 2015 their ideas became a reality. Much of this work was externally funded via competitive grants. In late 2015, ANKN became institutionalized in the general funding scheme of the University and I came on board as serving-Director. The initial goals of ANKN were to promote and develop culturally relevant educational materials, but this has evolved to encompass a more holistic approached to overall community healing and wellness issues. We currently serve to bridge the sharing of knowledge across a range social sectors from education, health, law, justice, and language. 

Q:     In your opinion, what are the top 3 reasons for the low STEM participation of Alaska Natives?

Hum:

 1) A deep seeded distrust for western educational systems

 2) Systematic devaluing/questioning of the validity of traditional knowledge systems by western science-- setting up a competitive rather than cooperative relationship between knowledge systems

 3) A long history of poor relationships with scientists/researchers in rural communities

All of these problems however, seem to be trending in the right direction at this moment.

Q: How can we increase the number of Alaska Natives in STEM?

Hum: Well, the better question is-- why should we increase the number? The answer to that will provide the seeds for how, but it will be different for different regions and communities so strategies have to be flexible to meet local needs. Developing local relevance is critical to earning sustained engagement. 

Q:    Finally, in your opinion, how important is it to include the traditional Alaska Natives science knowledge in today’s STEM education in Alaska?

Hum: Including traditional knowledge in the training of western scientists is probably a lot more important. Traditional knowledge is holistic and can't really be broken apart and parsed out into different western academic disciplines to their ends. However, the deep environmental and place-based information encoded in traditional knowledge is hugely relevant to western scientific understanding-- particularly as the Arctic experience rapid warming. This is because the holistic nature of indigenous or Alaska Native knowledge is tuned to identifying a diversity of system connections that the reductionist model of science often misses.

 
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2011 The Innovative Science & Technology Group (ISTGTM)