Gender, indigenous knowledge and development in the Arctic

by Mark Nuttall

In many parts of the Arctic indigenous resource management is one of the most significant areas of public policy concern to have emerged since the late 1970s and early 1980s. The outcome of struggles for self-determination depends on Native peoples regaining and reasserting control over both lands and resources and establishing strategies for sustainable resource development. Furthermore, growing recognition of the limits of scientific resource management has, over the last decade in particular, focused interest in the environmental knowledge of the Arctic's indigenous peoples. Research suggests that the application of indigenous environmental knowledge in development projects, environmental management and environmental impact assessment both enhances the likelihood of success and acknowledges that indigenous peoples are environmental experts who possess and have access to information unavailable or denied to scientists (e.g. Nakashima 1990, Sallenave 1994).

Yet, although indigenous peoples are increasingly recognised by resource managers and development agencies as a legitimate source of environmental knowledge, and while attempts are made to incorporate local perspectives, local participation in development and environmental management in the Arctic is often limited from a gender perspective. This paper argues that conceptual frameworks for understanding human-environment relationships and working out effective strategies for sustainable development are often incomplete unless they include consideration and analysis of different gender roles in a culture's mode of production as well as the different impacts men and women have on the environment.

In development projects in the Arctic, and indeed elsewhere in the world, women's knowledge is often muted or ignored, while cultural evaluations of women's roles in production have resulted in biases against women's knowledge and against the technology and needs of women (Loutfi 1980, Momsen 1991, Swantz 1985). Local knowledge is only made accessible to environmental managers in a partial and fragmentary form (Nuttall 1998), and few researchers in the Arctic have documented in detail the daily routines of women and the vital contributions they make to the social and economic vitality of their communities. Sustainability and effective environmental management is only possible if the documentation of indigenous knowledge systems and research on environmental change and human-environment relationships consults both women and men, and if women and men are represented equally in decision-making and consultative bodies involved in sustainable development.
Indigenous knowledge and participatory approaches to sustainable development
Perhaps the greatest challenge facing the remote communities of the Arctic is to find forms of sustainability that are possible within local and regional diversified economies. By emphasising the importance of indigenous knowledge attempts are being made to establish small-scale locally-based economies as a way of escaping cycles of boom and bust, to overcome constraints to self-determination and seize opportunities for local empowerment. Indigenous discourses on human-environment relationships question the legitimacy of orthodox scientific environmental management and stress that indigenous peoples offer a different and unique perspective on environmental protection and sustainability (Nuttall ibid.). Indigenous peoples' organisations such as the Inuit Circumpolar Conference (ICC) and the Saami Council have a clearly focused agenda: protecting indigenous homelands with environmental management programmes that integrate conventional scientific approaches, yet arguing the need to create the conditions necessary for a sustainableeconomic base in Arctic communities. The Arctic Environmental Protection Strategy (AEPS) and the Arctic Council have both institutionalised and given greater international recognition to indigenous environmental knowledge and expertise.

Since Brokensha et al's (1980) seminal volume on indigenous knowledge systems and development, a steadily expanding literature on the sociology and anthropology of development has explored how the increased participation of local people and the incorporation of their knowledge improves sustainable development projects and resource management programmes (for examples of recent work see Agrawal 1995, Chokor and Odemerho 1994, Dewalt 1994, Osunade 1994). Participatory approaches to development and environmental management reject simplistic models which make marked distinctions between human settlement and the natural environment and focus instead on how human knowledge of the environment is actually constructed and used as a foundation upon which decisions relating to the effective local management of natural resources are made.

In many parts of the Arctic, Africa, Asia and Latin America, for example, anthropologists have demonstrated that environmental and development projects are more likely to succeed if a participatory approach is adopted, and indeed when a degree of decision-making power is given to local communities (e.g. Drijver 1992, Freeman 1989). The claim advanced for indigenous environmental knowledge is that it offers an alternative to scientific and technological approaches to environmental management. Anthropologists working on indigenous knowledge systems in many different parts of the world have described in detail such things as how local communities have their own pest-control methods or forest regeneration strategies, their own effective systems of soil classification and fertility management, or have pointed out that religion and ritual are important for conserving the environment.

Explicit in much of the literature on indigenous knowledge and development is the suggestion that local economic practices are environmentally benign, that indigenous peoples have first-hand knowledge of ecological relationships and are good managers of common-property resources. Shifting cultivation is widely considered to be ecologically-sound, for example, in the way it differs from intensive commercial agriculture and allows the soil to recover it regenerative capacity. Similarly, indigenous forestry management allows for conservation and replenishment of trees. Anthropologists working in Africa, for example, have shown that tribal people who depend on forests demonstrate both profound respect for the resources they rely on and have systems of environmental knowledge that guarantee the continuity of both culture and the natural world (e.g. van Beek and Banga 1992) Similarly, the literature on Arctic peoples is replete with references to how they perceive their environments as inherently spiritual and anthropologists have documented in great detail how subsistence communities have customary rules which may be interpreted as having good conservation effects (Nuttall 1998).

Ideally, when a participatory approach is adopted, officials of environmental and development agencies act as catalysts, intermediaries and advisers (Drijver ibid.: 133), aiming to let local people define and work out projects, plans and sustainable management schemes that would best meet their own needs and allow them to incorporate local systems of management. The incorporation of indigenous knowledge into resource management regimes, for example, allows managers to gain more insight into patterns of change in local production systems, whether those changes are the result of climatic factors, technological innovations, or fluctuations in the population dynamics and ecosystem interactions of the resource.

Participatory approaches to development and resource use examine the kinds of choices and decisions that people make that are informed and shaped by internal and external pressures on their cultural and physical environments. While participatory approaches do not provide or allow for complete self-management on the part of local communities, they do offer an alternative to 'top down' decisions by government agencies and outsiders and limit, from a local perspective, the dominance of technocentric managerialism, the control of the state and the subversion and repression of local knowledge.
In many cases the inclusion of indigenous communities in Arctic resource management has met with a remarkable degree of success. For example, co-operativewildlife management schemes that ensure the continuity of local subsistence activities have been effective for several years in Canada and Alaska (e.g. Berkes 1982, Freeman 1989), such as the co-management of caribou herds in Canada's Northwest Territories, waterfowl management schemes in southwest Alaska, and indigenous whaling in northern Alaska. The argument put forward for the co-management of wildlife is that by integrating indigenous knowledge and western scientific knowledge the resulting resource management system is better informed and suited to the resource, the people who rely on it, and to the needs of scientists and conservationists. Much of this is based on principles of power-sharing, with the creation of wildlife commissions and boards made up of representatives from indigenous communities and state, federal and provincial agencies.

Participatory approaches to resource management are not without their problems, however. Questions arise as to who participates and how far they are allowed to participate, whose knowledge is being used and who benefits from development. Even when a participatory approach involving local people claims success, only a few local representatives (such as successful hunters, fishers and herders) may have been consulted and given responsibility for making decisions on behalf of the community as a whole. As Mosse (1993: 18) argues, in a participatory approach to development a particular context is established 'which gives privilege to certain types of knowledge and representation and suppresses others'. The level of local involvement also varies, from advisers and policy makers merely acknowledging the fact that local people exist, and can therefore be used as informants, to developing relations of trust and actually involving them as true participants in the control of projects and management of resources.

All local interests may not be recognised by those who have their own agendas. For example, gender and generational differences are often muted and ignored, thereby obviating recognition of the different perspectives, levels of decision-making, self-interests, rights and obligations, and the different kinds of knowledge men and women have even though they are members of the same family, household and community. While these differences may be apparent within households and communities, they are not always recognised by researchers and environmental managers who neatly sidestep epistemological concerns, are uncritical of indigenous knowledge and often take it at face value, without questioning how it is constituted or what underpins it, and fail to understand the diversity of experiences and environmental knowledge that people have. There is also an ever present danger that a partial understanding of a community's environmental knowledge, based on the information of only a few individuals, can be mistaken for, and come to represent, a shared system of knowledge. In this way the focus is on systems of knowledge, an abstracted totality, not people and personal beliefs, experiences and diverse ways of knowing.

Women's knowledge as muted knowledge
Social differentiation and specialisation in spheres of social and economic activity means that indigenous knowledge systems are gendered. Although this is not in itself a startlingly new anthropological observation, environmental managers, however, often assume otherwise and do not recognise gender differentiation in the generation and transmission of knowledge. Because of this 'participation' in development and environmental management is, among other things, limited from a gender perspective. As Jackson (1994: 120) puts it, participatory approaches to development
"assume that communication is unproblematic and ungendered beyond the need to make sure that women and men are represented in the decision-making or consultative bodies involved....there is no recognition of the degree to which views expressed by participants reflect dominant/dominated models and knowledges, "false consciousness" or mutedness."

Men and women play distinct roles in economic production and as a consequence they have different experiences and understandings of the natural world. For example, Fernandez (1992) has shown how, in parts of the Andes, women have more knowledge of livestock management practices than do men. Men, in turn, know more about soil classification than women. This is recognised and acknowledged within local communities: women are consulted about grazing and breeding strategies, men are consulted when decisions need to be made about the use of fields and the planting of crops. Yet evaluations of women's roles in production by outsiders, as well as by different groups based on gender, generation and occupation within local communities,has resulted in biases against women's knowledge and against the technology and needs of women. As Chambers (1983: 80) points out,
"Ploughing, mainly carried out by men, has received more attention than weeding or transplanting, mainly carried out by women. Cash crops, from which male heads of household benefit disproportionately, have received more research attention than subsistence crops, which are more the concern of women."

Women are often seen to be peripheral contributors to the economic viablity of a community and understandings of human-environment relations are often based on men's practical knowledge, their direct engagement with resources and their experiences of the environment. The practical knowledge and strategic interests of women are seldom considered. This is a point taken up by Merchant (1990), who argues that conceptual frameworks for understanding human-environment relationships are incomplete unless they include consideration and analysis of different gender roles in a culture's mode of production as well as the different impacts men and women have on the environment. This is not merely in terms of production and socio-economic relations, but in a cognitive and conceptual sense and Merchant calls for a greater awareness of how women's roles in spiritual and cosmological ideas can enrich environmental history.

Women's knowledge may be muted or ignored for a variety of reasons. There may be institutionalised discrimination in a society, or many anthropologists may be male. As Mosse (ibid.: 24) points out, knowledge gathered in development projects 'is likely to be problematic because it is produced in a social context where the influence of power and authority and gender inequality are likely to be great'. Local knowledge is only made accessible to outsiders in a fragmentary and partial form. In the Arctic, because of the dependence of many small communities on renewable resources (and also because of the scientific interest in ecological adaptations), policy makers, environmental managers and anthropologists have taken more of an interest in subsistence practices such as hunting large land and marine animals. These are productive activities which often carry much prestige within communities.
In Greenland, for example, hunting is an exclusively male activity. The word anguvoq, which means 'to kill a seal' is derived from the masculine root angu- (angut meaning 'man'). Within local contexts the involvement of women in subsistence activities tends to be regarded as low in prestige and anthropologists and other researchers, with the exception of those who have documented indigenous plant classification, only tend to take an interest in women's subsistence activities when women hunt. In the small villages of south, north and east Greenland hunting is differentiated from women's work (suliaq), which belongs to the domestic sphere, as opposed to hunting which takes place in an environment that both gives meaning to and derives meaning from hunting (Nuttall 1992).
The small, remote indigenous communities of the Arctic are mostly characterised by their mixed economies, combining the informal sector of customary and traditional subsistence activities, which provide the primary sources of food for many households, with the formal sector of wage-earning possibilities and transfer payments. The informal sector is not always easy to measure or analyse, combining as it does hunting, trapping and fishing based on long-term, consistent patterns of use and seasonal variation, non-accumulation of capital, sharing of wild foods, the generational transmission of knowledge, and non-monetary exchange based on kinship groups and other networks of close social association. Some observers see informal economic activities as having great potential in forming the basis for economic diversification in indigenous communities. But few researchers anywhere in the Arctic have documented in detail the daily routines of women in the informal economy and the vital contributions they make to the social and economic vitality of their communities, nor do we understand fully womenÕs roles as resource managers (e.g. in the way they distribute resources within communities) and their roles in childrearing and the generational transmission of knowledge, social values and cultural traditions. When hunting and fishing activities and local knowledge of natural resources are mapped, for instance, women are often excluded and the representation of certain types of knowledge marks it out 'as the province of men' (Mosse ibid.: 16). As a Yup'ik woman from southwest Alaska commenting on indigenous knowledge projects once told me, "What a woman understands and knows is never considered".

In Arctic hunting societies, women fish, gather plants, hunt small animals, collect bird's eggs, process meat, and sew skin clothing, while the different types of knowledge women possess relating to fertility, marriage, birth and death, social organisation and cultural values are also embedded within cultural understandings of the environment. Subsistence activities do not only provide the nutritional means for survival, hunting and fishing are important for cultural identity and embody notions of a specific relationship between humans and animals that defines indigenous culture and allows for the contiuity of local livelihoods. Women play vital roles in the spiritual, economic and social aspects of hunting, observing taboos before men go in search of game, ensuring that the souls and spirits of hunted animals are respected, preparing meat and skins, and sharing meat within families and between households. Women exchange information and discuss personal experiences when they are involved in these tasks. Similarly, men gather by harbours and markets and other meeting places and discuss the day's hunting, fishing, or reindeer round-ups. They exchange information on the habits and activities of animals, and on the weather and advise each other on subsistence activities.

Tasks within households and communities, then, are specialised. But gender differences are evident in different channels of communication about local resource management systems. In Arctic hunting communities, boys accompany their fathers on hunting and fishing trips, girls stay in the village to learn productive and reproductive roles. Information is exchanged in informal ways, or through more formal channels as hunter's and trapper's associations, or women's cooperatives, which again are gender-based. Cultural understandings of the environment can only be enhanced once emphasis is also placed on women's knowledge.

Former ICC President Caleb Pungowiyi said in his presentation to the Arctic Leaders Summit in Tromsø, Norway in early 1995 that
"Much of the fabric of our communities and our economies is due to the strength and talents of our women. This is something that we men do not openly acknowledge....I believe we should once again bring elder women with us to meetings of the International Whaling Commission, to the meetings of the Convention on InternationalTrade of Endangered Species and to the IUCN. We should let them speak more loudly to the United States hearings of the U.S. Marine Mammal Protection Act. In particular we should let our elder women once again tell the story of what life was like, what life can be like and what it still continues to be like in many of our communities."

While for the most part, women's voices are still muted in Arctic anthropological research, there is an emerging literature about women's views of landscape and environmental knowledge in the Arctic (e.g. Cruikshank 1990), women's life stories that reveal their perspectives on changing social, economic and political situations affecting their communities (e.g. Blackman 1989), women's perspectives on health (O'Neil and Kaufert 1990), and their contributions to economic life and subsistence activities (e.g. Bodenhorn 1990, Briggs 1974, Turner 1990). But there is urgent need for more research on how far men and women have different environmental knowledge, how far decisions that relate to the use of resources and particular geographical locations lie with women, whether women are more environmentally protective than men, how women and men experience environmental change, seasonality and family size, how women organise, preserve and transmit environmental knowledge, the kinds of experiences women associate with local landscapes, and the way greater gender awareness in the social differentiation of local knowledge is used in a strategic way to further women's interests. In short, the documentation of indigenous knowledge systems and research on environmental change and human-environment relationships should aim to consult both men and women.

Sustainable development: project planning and gender awareness
If resource management and development projects are to succeed and meet the needs of local people, and if indigenous knowledge and experience is to form the basis for sustainable development in the Arctic, the interconnections between women and environmental, political and socio-economic systems must be understood. Analysis of the gender dimension of indigenous knowledge systems must therefore precede policy-making. Indeed, Chapter 24 of Agenda 21 (the policy statement from the 1992 United Nations Conference on the Environment and Development) makes it clear that development agencies should 'ensure that gender considerations are fully integrated into all policies, programmes and activities'.

With this in mind, the newly formed Network among Indigenous Women in the Arctic has requested that the Arctic Council recognises that indigenous women should be involved as equal partners in consultation and decision-making processes that involve the utilisation and development of traditional indigenous homelands, and that the Network should be represented in the Arctic Council.

Sustainable development is a priority area for the Arctic Council, which follows closely the 1987 Brundtland Commission definition as development which meets the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their needs. Canada, in its role as first chair of the Arctic Council, has defined sustainable development as 'development which seeks human well-being through an equitable and democratic utilisation of society's resources, while preserving cultural distinctiveness and the natural environment for future generations' (Graham 1997: 101). If women are to be an integral part of the sustainable development process in the Arctic it is essential that gender awareness must be improved among planners, politicians, managers and among different groups within local communities. Project design, implementation and evaluation will be greatly enhanced if both men and women are involved on an equal basis in identifying the priority needs of local communities, if developers and planners understand gender relations within Arctic households and how the needs of both women and men differ.

But while there is need to raise awareness concerning the role of gender and indigenous knowledge in resource management and sustainable development, developers and resource managers should be cautious about seeing men and women as undifferentiated gendered groups. Nor should they assume that indigenous knowledge is generated, acquired or distributed evenly throughout any given population. Men have different knowledge about similar things than other men, as do women. As well as different gender roles in productive and reproductive activity, there are individual and generational differences in economic activities and subsistence techniques. Hunters, fishers and herders, for example, think, believe, know and have experiences of animals and the landscape in different ways from other hunters in the same community or household. People have different opportunities to gain access to resources, they experience the environment differently, they participate in different and diverse ways in productive and reproductive activities, and they use different channels of communication to discuss and share information. This knowledge and these experiences differ in both quantity and quality. The use of indigenous knowledge for environmental management and sustainable development can only be strengthened if heterogenous sets of knowledge are recognised, valued and incorporated.

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