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Climate Change, Food, and ‘Sharing’ among the Iņupiat of Wainwright, Alaska [Part 2 of 2 Case study]

This case study examines the implications of climate change for the Iņupiat community of Wainwright, Alaska. Specifically, it addresses Iņupiat relations with agviq, the bowhead whale (Balaena mysticetus). First, we describe how Iņupiat whalers hunt the bowhead whale, how the whaling crew shares the whale with the community, and how the community celebrates a successful whaling season. Second, these descriptions are followed by observations of change in sea ice morphology and phenology, as well as potential impacts of climate change on bowhead whale hunting. These impacts potentially restrict Iņupiat food sovereignty, which is the right and ability of communities to choose culturally relevant and ecologically sustainable foods they obtain and consume from their ecological habitat (Kassam et al. 2010). Furthermore, hunting, distributing, and celebrating bowhead whales demonstrate community values, particularly the value of ‘sharing.’ Even if specific expressions of this value change, because sharing has historically played a significant role among the Iņupiat, it will likely continue to be significant in community adaptation to climate change.

Indigenous peoples living in high Arctic environments have developed sophisticated ecological and social relationships with the animals, plants, and inanimate objects that define their complex and dynamic habitat. These relations are integral to maintaining subsistence livelihoods, such as hunting and gathering, which are based on dynamic traditions that have enabled them to adapt to social and environmental change. Although indigenous peoples of the Arctic have contributed little to the causes of climate change, they are among the first to feel its effects. Climate change threatens subsistence livelihoods by increasing the variability and unpredictability of wind, currents, and formation of sea ice. Changes in sea ice jeopardize the safety of hunters and their access to marine mammals; and therefore, sources of food.

This case study accompanies a 14-minute video (which must be viewed first) entitled: "Climate Change, Food, and 'Sharing' among the Iņupiat of Wainwright, Alaska." The video is available in Part 1.

Please note that these two resources are intended to be viewed together. Click the link below to view Part 1.
Associated files
Resource Group Climate Change, Food, and Sharing among the Iņupiat of Wainwright, Alaska
Resource Group Link
Special Collection
Primary or BEN resource type
Secondary resource type
Discipline Specific Core Concepts
Life science discipline (subject)
Keywords case study, climate change, food security, food sovereignty, Iņupiat, indigenous peoples, sharing
Key taxa Bowhead whale (Balaena mysticetus)
Intended End User Role
Educational Language
Pedagogical Use Category
Pedagogical Use Description This video and accompanying text are intended to be used in illustrating the sociocultural and ecological connectivity when considering the impact of climate change. Specifically, this activity focuses on indigenous cultures in the Arctic and on the concept of food sovereignty.

Students must be able to understand the fundamental linkage between the sociocultural and ecological. Furthermore, students should develop empathy for cultures which are affected by dramatic climate change but did not directly contribute to climatic variation.
Aggregation Level
Full Name of Primary Author Kassam Research Group
Primary Author Controlled Name
Primary Author Affiliation Department of Natural Resources &
American Indian Program
College of Agriculture & Life Sciences
Cornell University
220A Bruckner Hall
Ithaca, NY 14853-3001 USA
Primary Author email
Added By Id
  • KAK
Submitter Name Karim-Aly Kassam
Submitter Email
Rights Karim-Aly Kassam
Review type
Drought and Water Ecosystem Services Collection Off
Conservation Targets Under Global Change Collection On
Big Data Collection Off
Editors Choice No
Resource Status
Date Of Record Submission 2011-11-23
I Agree to EcoEdDL's Copyright Policy & Terms of Use No
Date Of Record Release 2011-12-05 11:04:00
Last Modified By Id
  • tmourad
Date Last Modified 2013-10-28 07:50:08
Release Flag Published

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