Humankind and Nature


Connecting the Dots with Victoria Buschman

Photo Credit: Victoria Buschman

We talk with the Iñupiaq Wildlife and Conservation Biologist about the role of Indigenous Peoples in Arctic conservation strategies.

They make up less than 5% of the global population, yet Indigenous Peoples and Local Communities support about 80% of the world's biodiversity. Still, again and again we hear about Human Rights violations, land dispossession and offences that limit these communities' self-determination in the name of conservation. 

The vast Arctic region is home to many Indigenous communities, who in the face of numerous challenges, have been developing and implementing successful conservation strategies. 

Iñupiaq Wildlife and Conservation Biologist Victoria Buschman, our guest in this episode, is uniquely positioned to help us understand how these communities' efforts can be valued and defended, and also how we can build bridges between conservation movements worldwide. As the first Inuk Doctor of Conservation Biology in the world, Victoria tirelessly works to promote the role Indigenous Peoples must play in every aspect of Arctic conservation strategies. 

This fascinating conversation was guided by Azimuth Advisory Committe member Thea Bechshøft, a Marine Biologist and researcher with Polar Bears International, who has done extensive field work in Greenland and Canada.

Play the video version below, or scroll down to listen to the podcast version and read a transcript.

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Thank you so much, Victoria, for finding the time to talk to us, to me, today. I really appreciate it, and I've been looking forward to our meeting. So, I was wondering if you could start us off by sharing a bit about the Iñupiaq community of Utqiaġvik, where you were raised? How are ideas of conservation and sustainability embedded in your culture's relationship to the land?


Hi, thank you so much for having me. I'd love to talk about my home community. Utqiaġvik is a small primarily Iñupiaq community in the far north of Alaska. It's actually the town that is the northernmost in the entire United States, although it's not the northernmost town in the North American continent. That's actually here, in Greenland.

But I was raised in a community that is very separated, in many ways, from the rest of the world. We don't have roads systems in the same way that other communities are connected in the lower 48, or even in other parts of Alaska. Most of our goods are coming by plane. And the reason that they don't come by ship is because we have a lot of sea ice, often about nine months of the year, so we can't even have barges to bring our normal goods to our community.

And what this means is that, if you can imagine, a grocery store is not necessarily a very accessible resource for a lot of community members, because as things are coming by air, they become astronomically more expensive. For example, a gallon of milk in Utqiaġvik can go for $11.00, which is about maybe three or four times more expensive than in other parts of the United States. And this means that a lot of community members don't have the same access to foods that we do in other parts of the world.

And this really shows that we really do rely, and have relied, on our traditional sources of food for a very long time. I come from a community also where hunting, both on land and on sea, is extremely important. There's also a small fishing community, but primarily Iñupiaq are marine hunters. We're primarily on kayak, or on umiak, which is a very large skin boat. And the community of Utqiaġvik, among a lot of marine mammals sea hunting - which includes seals and walrus, polar bear even - we also are the largest bowhead whaling community in the world. And this is actually something that has fully defined our culture as Iñupiaq, from other Inuit in the Arctic. We are very strong bowhead whaling Peoples. And we still do this traditionally by skin boat, which is paddled by hand.

And I was raised in this context, with this great appreciation for how hard you have to work for your food, how hard you have to work to be comfortable in your environment. My hometown can be as cold as -60ºC in the winter time. And it's rarely that warm in the summer, to be honest, you get above 0ºC for a while. But it's not particularly comfortable, in that sense, a lot of the time. So, basically, our existence as a People has very much relied on our knowledge of the environment, our abilities to survive, and also to thrive in our environment. And and we have been able to keep this culture alive all throughout the colonial period, which is very impressive, because other Inuit communities in other parts of the Arctic have had more difficulty, in some regards, to maintaining culture. That is very much related to knowledge of the environment, as well.

Photo Credit: Arctic Council Secretariat - Kseniia Iartceva


It sounds challenging and very beautiful. Growing up, what made you aware that Indigenous and Western perspectives on conservation were not necessarily aligned? When and how did you decide that you would tackle this divergence by trying to change the system from within, if you will?


Conservation issues are so apparent in the lives of Iñupiaq, that they can't be ignored. Even from a very young age, I have been aware of the laws and regulations that surround our ability to practice our culture. In the United States, especially because of the Marine Mammal Protection Act, we are very much confined to what we are allowed to do as Indigenous Peoples, and under what laws, what regulations. So much so, that the government is telling us what we can put for dinner on the table, every day.

As a child, these kinds of conversations around the fisheries, and around the hunting, and the opening and closing of the seasons, and the population dynamics from the science perspective, these kinds of conversations are very out in the open for a lot of Iñupiaq. I remember as a young child, we'd go hunting quite often, wanting to know, "Why do we have to report in certain information when we go hunting, like what we're catching, and these kinds of things? And who's using that information? And how are they coming up with these numbers?"

But it wasn't really cemented for me that I wanted to work personally on conservation issues until I was about 17. And I have a little bit of a cliché story, for Inuit. But I was out on a skiff, which is a very small aluminium boat, with some family of mine. And it was about maybe 1 o'clock in the morning, in the middle of the night. But it was bright outside, because it was summer time, and a pod of maybe 200 beluga came by. We cut the engine and we were just sitting there, watching them be around. And it had been about the first time, in about 15 years, that we had seen beluga in our region. They're not very common, but they used to be more common, and of course I was very much enjoying that they're engaging with us.

For hunting, for us, we say that the animals give themselves to us. There's this human-animal relationship, that is very important to us. In fact, this isn't spoken about too much, but we very much believe in kind of a version of reincarnation, that people are born from animals, and animals are born from people, and so you have to be a good hunter, because you don't want your family to suffer, you don't know if that is somebody that you have known recently. So this is a very special moment for me, because of course being surrounded by 200 beluga, no matter what, is a very incredible moment, even if you are kind of used to this environment. And I decided, "This is what I want to do. I want to work with animals."

And one thing that I should mention is that, of course, some of these beluga were also caught for food during this particular moment. And that, for me, is part of this idea, that I want to ensure that our Peoples can continue to practice our culture. We can continue to eat the foods that we always have, and with recognition that Inuit, we have our own values and rules, actually, within our own society, that make our hunting practices sustainable. And why aren't those recognized in the Western context?

I wanted to bring some of this to light, to show that even though we are still hunting a lot of the species that, at the global level, people consider very threatened and endangered, there is an extreme amount of caution and respect that goes into that. And that we have been practicing this sort of methods very sustainably, for thousands of years. And that hasn't been recognized by the conservation community that much. Of course it has been more, in recent years. But I knew that that was sort of the the issue that I wanted to work on, as I moved forward.


People of the Whale – a portrait of traditional hunting in Alaska

Photojournalist Kiliii Yuyan documents the Iñupiaq and their successful conservation practices using indigenous knowledge


You remember these conversations about the quotas, probably, and the limitations that were put on the hunting. And I was just wondering, do you remember any researchers coming into the community and sharing any information, or any of the feedback? Or was it just you giving data to projects?


This is a really good question. We are in a position, in Utqiaġvik, of being an important part of the research community, because there are some very important Arctic research stations there, some particular labs that have been collecting data for a decade. So it was quite common for us to have researchers in town. But they are mostly working with the Wildlife Department at the North Slope Borough, which is the local government.

Of course, there were sometimes presentations of the information and data, but they weren't very accessible to community members. In part, because that feels like a very separate world for us, and these meetings were happening quite far out of town, at these research stations, so they weren't always very accessible. That said, I did work for some years at the Bear Arctic Science Consortium, doing slightly different work.

But there was definitely an interest in the communities of, "What is happening? We don't know why these decisions are being made, and why they keep sending different people every year to do this data collection." That was always a divide that didn't seem particularly easy to overcome for a lot of people.

Photo Credit: Victoria Buschman


You serve as the first Inuk Doctor of Conservation Biology in the world. This is applaudable, no matter how you look at it. And it makes me wonder, how do we ensure that others will have the opportunity to follow in your footsteps?  

I had a look on your website, which is brilliant, and I encourage everyone to go take a look at it. And you linked to one of your opinion pieces, where the headline was, "Indigenous Youth, or the future of Arctic research, conservation and management - Getting us there is going to take a lot more than open arms." Can you talk to me a little bit about that? What is needed for Indigenous youth to be able to pursue an education like yours - not necessarily academic, but one that allows them to partake in research, and conservation, and management decisions going forward?


This is incredibly important to me. I don't think I would have made it down this path if I hadn't also been raised in the lower 48. That obviously gave me a lot of additional opportunities to pursue my interests. Because if we look at the Arctic in general, there are actually very few universities here. We have the University of Alaska Fairbanks, as a major university in Alaska. And then we have the University of Greenland, here. There's also the University of Tromsø, for Sámi people. But there aren't many in close proximity to Indigenous communities.

And not all of these universities are actually offering degrees in Science. For example, the University of Greenland has mostly bachelor programs in the Humanities. For Inuit who live in Greenland, if they want to pursue a degree in Science, or to become more versed in research, often people want to see that they have an interest in Science, that they have an interest in Biology and wildlife. And even if these youths are coming with tons of experience as hunters and fishers, they often have to make the commitment of leaving their entire country, to get an education in another country. Many youths that want to study Biology will go to the universities in Denmark, and then come back.

But the issue with this is not just having to move to another country. It's also a separation from your support network, it's a separation from a place with cultural understanding. I think for young people, it can be very difficult to make the decision to leave everything you know behind, to enter a world that is not particularly friendly to your worldview. And this has been an issue for many Inuit.

I know that I have quite a few friends and colleagues who had wanted, originally, to study in the Wildlife Sciences or in the Biologies, because that was what was most aligned with their personal interests. But they could never make the grades to go to a foreign university, or even if they were qualified, upon going to such a program didn't feel like they fit in, or that their understanding of the world was respected. Inuit, even those who attempt to go to university to study these things, often end up finding all of these roadblocks that make it much more difficult.

Of course having a degree, in my mind, is not the only way to be involved in these activities, in management and decision making. And there's a little bit more recognition for this now. Particularly, we see that in Canada there's a lot of support for bringing youth into guardianship programs, and for providing research opportunities for youth that are in high school. And even advisory opportunities, to advise researchers, in this mutual learning sort of space. But we don't see it enough.

And I would still say that it is incredibly hard, as a young Indigenous person in the Arctic, to be a part of these huge discussions that are happening. Many of the decisions around conservation that are being made now are not even just at the national level. We're talking about these internationally coordinated efforts, where they do want somebody in that discussion, in that negotiation, to have a PhD. And it's more or less a disservice to ourselves, as a global population, to have these requirements that exclude Indigenous Peoples from this conversation.

I have been very lucky in my personal time to have access to these international fora, to the UNFCCC, to the Arctic Council, to other places where these decisions are being made, simply because of my educational attainment. Not necessarily - and I will say this very honestly - because I am the best person for that job. Because there are situations where I would say, "Yes, I'm a knowledge holder, but the person that you want to talk to about this issue would be a hunter. And I can tell you a number of people who would give you the most valuable information about a particular species, or a particular location, or particular priorities or management strategies, and they're just not invited to be at the table." And I find that to be an extreme loss, as we move forward on conservation issues.

Because even me, as one person, I can't represent all Inuit, in all locations, in all communities, for all species. I try my best, but to be very honest, that's impossible. And there are so many good people, so many talented and knowledgeable people, that could be a part of these conversations, that are not.

Photo Credit: Victoria Buschman


This is a huge topic, but where would you start, if you were to make these international fora more inclusive?


I think it's very difficult, because many of these fora, they do have either permanent participants from Indigenous organizations, or they have fellowship programs specifically for Indigenous Peoples. The International Arctic Science Committee has a fellowship for Indigenous students, for example.

But for the most part, because of this heavily academic approach to international affairs, most of these programs are targeted to students who already have their Masters, who are considering PhDs, who are working as postdocs. And there is some value in that because, for sure, there are more Indigenous scholars who are working at the Masters and PhD level. I'm thinking about my Indigenous colleagues from Russia, and my Indigenous colleagues from Sápmi, particularly our Indigenous colleagues in Canada. There are more scholars and I think that's very beautiful.

But we can't assume that people have access to this kind of education at all, that if you  are smart enough, and apply yourself, you will be able to get there. That's definitely not how it works. We're talking about communities that don't even have high schools. I've lived in Greenland for some years, and there are only three high schools in the whole country. Students move from all the communities in Greenland, when they're very young, just to go to high school. And even that, sometimes, is too much to ask of somebody who knows, "I'm gonna be a hunter, like my family before me. I'm gonna be a fisher, like my family before me." And those are perfectly acceptable and good trajectories for those people's lives.

One thing that I would recommend, for these international fora, is to create more community youth panels, community youth exchange opportunities. But to remove a lot of those requirements for what kind of educational attainment you have, what kind of experiences have you had, what is your interest in international affairs. Because many people don't necessarily want to work in international affairs. They just have that knowledge that is so important to moving forward with these conservation efforts.

Photo Credit: Victoria Buschman


I think that's a really good point. Academia loves titles, and I don't think that always serves us well. I actually wanted to dive into academia a little bit more. As a white academic coming from a colonizer country, I can see that in many ways this is a broken system, that is not conducive to diversity, or equity, or - to a very large degree - to incorporating Indigenous knowledge holders in the research that it produces.

Of course this may vary between different fields of research, but coming from polar bear research, this is certainly the case in many instances, as I'm sure you're well aware of. And I know this is another huge question, but I was wondering if you had any thoughts on how to turn this around? How do we decolonize Arctic research, and better mesh the Western scientific methods and the Indigenous knowledge in every research project out there? How do we help fix academia, on this point?


Massive question, but definitely very important. In the conservation sphere, I do find that we are making vast improvements in the kind of knowledge that is allowed to be a part of the assessments, the management strategies, the reporting and even the research. It's not all exclusionary. There are definitely really good examples of researchers working with Indigenous communities, and actually using Indigenous knowledge to come to important conclusions and to make important recommendations.

For example, just a few months ago, polar bear Biologist Kristin Laidre - who actually sat on my PhD committee when I was at the University of Washington - published a paper in collaboration with many folks, and also in recognition that they had partnered with some hunters, down in South Greenland. They had able to identify that the population of polar bears in South Greenland actually represents a distinct 20th population of polar bears in the world. And this was really important, because without the Indigenous knowledge, there wouldn't have been a recognition for the behavioural differences in the population. It wasn't so much based on, necessarily, just the genetics. But Inuit in South Greenland, we're very aware that there is a population of polar bears that exist in a very different way than polar bears do in other places.

And this is important because polar bears in South Greenland actually live in an environment that is more open water, and glacial ice, than it is sea ice. And the idea behind it is that we're looking at a population of polar bears that is already historically adapted to a more warm sea environment. And for a long time we've been thinking that polar bears aren't necessarily very adaptable, that they're very tied to sea ice, and of course this is very true, but we finally have an example where we can study bears that are more open ice associated, than other populations have been. This is my understanding of that project.

But there are these research projects that are trying to do more with Inuit knowledge, trying to be more engaged with the communities from the outset. This was just an example. But there have been plenty of examples in Alaska, and Canada in particular, where community members have actually been asked to validate the findings of scientific research. Which is very new. I've only seen it a few times, in the last five or six years. It's a recognition that there are sometimes mistakes in research.

I can share a very famous one, from my own hometown in Utqiaġvik. There had been some research in the 1970s, about the bowhead whale population. The researchers had come up to do their assessments of the population, and they had come to the conclusion that the population was in horrific decline. And with the recommendations from the research, the US government closed the whaling hunt for that year. And this was a huge problem for our community, because if we have food insecurity in the North now, it definitely was there in the 1970s. And a lot of the hunters and the whaling captains came together, and they said, "This is not reflective of what we're seeing on the day-to-day, right?" Hunters and fishers are much more involved in the environment than researchers who come up for just a few weeks, here and there, of the year. And they said, "We don't think this is correct. We're going to invite the researchers back, and we're gonna ask them where they've been looking."

And it turns out, of course, that the researchers were not looking in the whales' preferred habitat for that time of the year, so they had horribly miscalculated what the population was. And of course this has impact on people's lives, on people's ability to feed their families. This is a really significant mistake. And the hunters were able to take the researchers to the place where they do have their preferred habitat, and the population count was stable, as it had been in the previous years. This was sort of the first major example for the North Slope, of community members being able to show researchers that no matter how much you look in one particular area, if it's not the right area, you're not going to get an accurate number. 

So this has been an issue with Indigenous communities, time and time again. We see this pretty consistently, actually. There are some populations of narwhal and beluga, both in Canada and in Greenland, that the population numbers are disputed. There's also some backlash, from community members here in Greenland, about particular narwhal counts in east Greenland. And there are some pretty significant criticisms of the methodologies that are being used to count narwhal, here in Greenland.

And many of these populations, not particularly the ones in East Greenland, but many of the beluga and narwhal populations are actually shared between Canada and Greenland. And these two countries have very different methodologies for how they count the population. And in Canada there's a little bit more respect for wanting to do it with Inuit knowledge. They're required by certain laws, and Nunavut too, to include an Indigenous knowledge component to any kind of research that includes species that are important to communities. And we just see very different results coming out of the research in Canada and the research coming out of Greenland.

And this is just a particular example of how it's a huge spectrum, of how much researchers are comfortable (or want to, even), engage with communities in research, what their expectations are, and, quite frankly, what community engagement looks like. There's an ethics behind it, as well. An ethics to using Inuit knowledge, an ethics to being involved with Indigenous communities in an appropriate way, that is not more or less extractive of information. Inuit also want to be involved in these conversations, not just research, but also, "How is that information that I'm giving going to be involved in producing regulations, and policies, and management strategies?"

So we do a good job and we do a bad job, and I think that's more or less how how it's going to be. But hopefully we're making small steps forward, in ways that are meaningful for communities.

Photo Credit: Victoria Buschman


Hopefully, we're heading towards a better place than we have been. But this ties really well into my next question, because you said in some other interview that Indigenous knowledge and Science can be partnered and learn from each other, but not integrated. And I would love it if you could talk a little bit more about that. Also, this concept of co-productive conservation, that was in your paper from last year?


The argument that I have made, and I think many Inuit have made, is that when we put the word "integrate" into the mind of a researcher, often times we end up dealing with people who are really expecting to come into a community, to somehow get Indigenous knowledge and turn it into numbers, and then put it into their model. We see this quite often, where there's just this mismatch in the expectation of what Indigenous knowledge is, what Indigenous knowledge is not, how it can be used and applied, and how it can inform science.

With recognition that there's a lot of confusion around how that works, I prefer to use the term "partnered". And I think "partnered" kind of implies that there's also this back and forth. I would say that community members are really interested in the science. They want to know how the decisions are being made, how the conclusions are come to, because these conclusions are very much, very concretely affecting their everyday lives. That's something that I think a lot of researchers don't necessarily have a full appreciation for. This is not just a job, this isn't just a paper. In many cases it can be something that actually affects an entire community's well-being, ability to practice their culture, and ability to hunt and fish. It's a very high-stakes for a lot of communities.

But there's also a lot that Indigenous knowledge can offer research, including the example I just gave. Sometimes, we need to know where something is. That is a really basic use of Indigenous knowledge. We've also seen in Canada that Indigenous knowledge has been used to pinpoint areas of disease emergence, for things like avian cholera. This is a disease that comes quite quickly, and there has been some research saying that Indigenous knowledge increases the response times to avian cholera. Researchers can identify it faster because community members, hunters, can identify it before anybody else. This is a disease that really decimates whole entire bird populations, and a lot of communities, especially in Canada, really rely on bird hunting. So this is also important.

Sometimes it's really basic knowledge that is needed in science. But sometimes it's also more complex - it's about relationships between particular species, or relationships between species and a particular sort of environmental quality. We see, also, that Indigenous knowledge can be predictive, in some ways, of the responses that wildlife will have to climate change. When we know that a species is associated with a particular preferred habitat, or particular preferred species of prey, we can actually start to imagine what it's gonna look like when a population of fish is in decline, or a population is moving northward, we can imagine what this population of seal, or beluga, or narwhal is going to do in response. 

Again in Greenland, just a few months ago, there was a paper that was released, saying that basically all species of marine mammals will be shifting northward, under climate change. We can imagine that they will be moving northward in the next few years. That's a thing that management is considering. These kinds of things, we recognise them in the scientific community, but they aren't necessarily big news in Greenland. People didn't realise that there had been research done on this. And a lot of community members were saying, "Well, yes, we've been seeing a northward trend for different fish populations, for different species. We were sort of expecting this, but we didn't realise it was going to be this big."

There's definitely a lot to be learned from Inuit knowledge, but I think it's best when Inuit knowledge and science are partnered in a way where we can not only explore the priorities of scientific research, but also the priorities of particular communities. We want to be doing research that is actually useful to the human beings who live on this planet, things that are important to people's livelihoods.

Photo Credit: Victoria Buschman


I think, at the very heart of it, everyone wants the same, right? A better world for all the living beings that inhabit it. But it seems that oftentimes we have different languages, and that just because the language isn't the same, and the terms aren't the same, that it just puts a stop to everything, or at least makes it flow less naturally, the conversation within conservation and management. Any thoughts on that?

I feel like Western scientific methods, they are broadcast on radio and TV, and everywhere on the Internet. So most people in the North probably know at least something of them. But that flow of information doesn't necessarily go the other way around. I think it's mostly on us, to learn a different way of communication.


I think it's communication, but I think it's also this very strange narration of what the Arctic is, which gets in the way of being able to cooperate in a really good way, to work together in a good way.

When I look at things that are written about the Arctic, or things that are written about our communities here, or written about species that live in the Arctic, what I read is not the truth that is experienced here. There's this idea that the Arctic is this empty, vast, horribly cold, terrible place, where nobody can survive, and animals are struggling for their lives for every second. These things just don't ring true for me, when I read about the North.

And we do have a lot of researchers who come from other parts of the world, who bring some of those ideas with them - "Why would we talk to a community? The community is so far from the thing that I'm studying. There's no relevance there." Sometimes people don't even know that people live in Greenland, or live in northern Canada, or live in northern Alaska. People are just not aware.

And I think we also do a disservice to ourselves, by telling these half truths about the Arctic. We're not exploring what it really is. And what I imagine is part of the problem is that Indigenous Peoples have not been invited to be a part of that narrative, of creating the narrative of what the North is. And of course, we're starting to see more books by Indigenous authors, and we're seeing more articles, and newspaper clippings, and things that are written by Indigenous Peoples. But for the most part, if you turn on the TV and you want to watch a documentary about the Arctic, you're watching BBC. And the researchers are getting these glamorous shots of these ice fields and saying, "It's so far from everything in the world, and it's so far removed, and we're in the middle of nowhere." And I know where those shots are taken outside of Ilulissat. You could walk half an hour and go eat a burger in town at a 5-star restaurant. You don't need to be over-dramatic about it.

I feel like the global public is also not getting an accurate picture of what the Arctic is, and the relationships here, and the importance of all of us working together, because we just don't tell the story. We don't tell the story in a way that gives it justice. And I think if we can overcome some aspects of that, and we can communicate better between community members and researchers, and really identify shared priorities, I think we'd be in a much better place.

I completely agree with you, that I think globally, we all have the same priorities. That we want species to be able to coexist here, in a way that is natural and healthy. And we want communities, also, to have good well-being, and to be healthy. But I think we just struggle with understanding that our priorities are the same. We do really want the same things. It's just often conservation can come, also, from a perspective of more animal rights, and it is about sustainability and natural life. And I know that a lot of people struggle with that aspect, also, of conservation. And I think that might also be a place of conflict for Indigenous communities, who really see our practices as being extremely respectful. I would even say that, in many ways, our hunting practices, and our norms, and our rules, and our laws as a society, are actually very loving towards animals.

And we want to be able to continue to hunt, and to fish, as we always have, and to share that relationship with species for time immemorial, for as long as possible. And this, I find, is usually a community's number one priority. We want to have these relationships with these animals, and we want to be able to do them in a way that we know is good, for both our community and, of course, for the animals themselves.

Photo Credit: Victoria Buschman


You've grown up in Alaska, and now you live in Greenland. And I know you've worked with Indigenous communities all across the Arctic. And I was wondering if, conservation wise, the needs, the wants, the challenges, are similar between communities, between countries?


Yes, they definitely are. It's actually extremely surprising how the challenges, and the needs, and the desires, are so closely related, despite being Inuit (here in Alaska, Canada, Greenland and part of Russia), Sámi people (who are in Norway, Sweden and Finland, and part of Russia), or Russian Indigenous Peoples.

We are all very distinct cultures, but at the same time we are all having the same challenges - of being taken seriously in these discussions, of being invited to the table, of being asked to share our knowledge, or not being asked to share our knowledge. These things are all very, very similar.

When I speak with my Sámi colleagues, they might be having more issues with the green energy transition than we are, as Inuit. But, essentially, the problems are the same. They can't herd their reindeer in a way that they always have been able to do. And the fragmentation of their landscapes by development, and these kinds of things, is a major challenge to their livelihoods. I see that also on our side, with the development of new mineral mines, or a new shipping industry - these kinds of things are also challenging to the species that we rely on, particularly marine mammals, who are sensitive to the noise of mining and drilling during particular migration times.

So we're really seeing a lot of very similar relationships, between all of us. And that's why there's so much good coming out of us engaging with each other, as Indigenous Peoples. One Indigenous People to another Indigenous People. Because we have so much to learn from each other, from our experiences in the ways that we manage certain issues, and work through certain policy processes. This has been extremely helpful. And there is significant effort by Indigenous organizations to continue working together. The Saami Council and the Inuit Circumpolar Council together make up the Arctic permanent participants of the United Nations. So we have a lot of space in the UN to work together on Arctic issues. There's a lot of camaraderie around that. 

We are not seeing our Russian colleagues right now, which is a whole other thing. For me, this is horribly tragic. We have a lot of very close colleagues in Russia, who have the same problems as us, and fight the same battles within their government, that we just don't hear from anymore. It's just Inuit and Sámi, and then all the Indigenous Peoples in Russia, so we've lost a significant partner in those conversations, in recent months.

Photo Credit: Victoria Buschman


And beyond the Arctic context, do you feel like Indigenous communities globally are increasingly shaping conservation, through science and policy?


Definitely. I think it's incredible, to what extent Indigenous Peoples are part of these conversations now. And I've talked mostly about the Arctic, where we're still quite slow in this regard. But the global recognition, particularly from IPCC and from the United Nations, is tremendous. It's huge. And especially, as we go to the different COPs, the Climate Change-related strategising, and benefits that are coming to Indigenous Peoples, are entirely unprecedented, in my mind. We are seeing huge steps forward, at COP26 and COP27.

It's so good for me to see, and to learn from other communities that are working in other parts of the world. Because, just like in the Arctic - where many of us are having the same challenges, and we're seeing the same good organising, and the same wins - we see this, actually, all over the globe. And it's wonderful for me, to be able to have the opportunity to speak with Indigenous folks from South America or from the Pacific Islands.

Because all of these communities, that I have met at the UN, are all so passionate about conservation. And it's a very different flavour of conservation than we see from the Western perspective. There are so many different strategies and approaches that have been developed by different communities, and it's wonderful to be able to see what they're doing, and to consider whether or not implementing those kinds of ways forward are possible for us, here at home. I feel extremely grateful that more and more recognition is coming for Indigenous Peoples, in this regard.

Photo Credit: Victoria Buschman


Before we round the conversation off, I want to ask you if there's anything you want to share with our listeners, that we haven't touched on here. Something I should have asked, but didn't.


One really exciting thing is that right now, in this decade, we are looking at possibly upwards of 10 new protected areas, here in the Arctic. And many of them, if not all of them, are being negotiated, and established, and assessed with Indigenous communities.

We're looking at the designation of a new bilateral, Indigenous-led protected area between Canada and Greenland, called Pikialasorsuaq, in the North. And of course it's taking years and years to get this sorted, but we still see small steps forward in establishing this massive protected area, which is going to be there to conserve these open ice area habitats for a lot of marine species. But we're also talking about a space where Inuit rights are being respected, where Inuit priorities are being brought to the table. And, essentially, we're looking at an establishment of a protected area that should be, first and foremost, of benefit to the marine species and to Inuit communities. And that's really special.

And we're seeing that in a lot of places, particularly in Canada. There's incredible work being done around marine conservation, at this moment. There are a lot of exciting things to look forward to, in Arctic conservation.

Photo Credit: Victoria Buschman


That's great to hear. If any of our listeners want to support Indigenous-led conservation initiatives in the Arctic, financially or otherwise, what would be the best way to do it?


I would say that if you wanted to make a financial contribution, the WWF Canada Office is extremely good at collaborating and working with Inuit communities. I would encourage folks to check out the work that they're doing. They fund work outside of Canada, as well, so it's more about particular offices, but there's definitely places to help out, in that regard.


Thank you so much for taking the time out of your day to talk with us, and for sharing your thoughts, and your knowledge, and for answering all my questions.

And for anyone wanting to learn more about Victoria and her work, you can find her on her own website, which is "" - there's a blog, there's talk about research, there are absolutely stunning pictures. And you can also find those on Instagram, where her handle is "@victoriabuschman".


Indigenous Arctic Conservation

Explore Victoria Buschman's work at her Official Website. 

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