Indigenous knowledge is critical to solving challenges through scientific research. In the past, Indigenous communities have been treated unfairly. In November 2022, Corina Qaaġraq Kramer, an Inuit community leader living and working in a frontline community in rural northwest Alaska, and Cana Uluak Itchuaqiyaq, an Inuit assistant professor of professional and technical writing at Virginia Tech, led a 90-minute, interactive workshop that discussed their Rematriation Project: Restoring and Sharing Inuit Knowledges. 

This project, a collaboration of Aqqaluk Trust, Virginia Tech’s English department in the College of Liberal Arts and Human Sciences, and University Libraries at Virginia Tech, aims to create capacity for and access to digital archiving and data related to Inuit cultural, tribal, and scientific knowledge and history by strategically incorporating the community into a research design based on humility, cooperation, and responsibility to tribe.

Kramer said the importance of the topic is two-fold.

“First, we need to be giving the Indigenous communities an equal chance to weigh in on what research is done on our Indigenous land according to our community needs, and also how it is done with respect to our values and knowledge systems,” said Kramer. “Secondly, as the communities experience a more equitable approach to research partnerships and they are truly given the ability to co-lead various projects, trust can be rebuilt. With more trust, there will be more open engagement in research projects, which will lead to far better outcomes.”

Itchuaqiyaq comes from an Inuit community in northwest Alaska and has experienced research as both the researcher and the subject. “Indigenous communities are the stewards and experts on their homelands and their communities,” she said. “Their wisdom should be incorporated, not just for equity’s sake, but as a strategy toward better research outcomes.”

Itchuaqiyaq said innovation in research comes from actively incorporating community partners in research design from its conception.

 “This topic needs to be discussed because while there are a lot of reasons and even guides about incorporating equity into Arctic research, there is little information about what that looks like and how these partnerships play out in the nuts and bolts of projects,” said Itchuaqiyaq. “Corina and I are sisters and collaborators, and so that relationship affords frank conversations about the work and the process as well as common goals that we share and can advocate together for in our projects.”

This issue is personal for Itchuaqiyaq. Polar research is an important interdisciplinary area of study with generous funding support from federal agencies. However, she said the communities need to be at the center for better research outcomes.

“My mama literally lives 30 feet from the ocean and the sea has been chipping away at that distance for years, but that’s not even our biggest concern,” she said. “Our community has a lot of experience and expertise, but it also has a lot of needs, dire needs. Our youth and our Elders are dying and our way of life is being changed dramatically. Research, if it is done in a good way that addresses community-determined and driven goals and needs and builds local capacities, can help. I’m invested in helping Virginia Tech be a part of the solution.”