Research finds sharing, cooperation key to Arctic villages

November 23, 2016 by Debbie Carter
Barrow community members share the work of hauling out a harvested bowhead. Credit: Jenny K. Evans

A new analysis of subsistence data collected in three Arctic communities underscores the importance of social ties and sharing among households.

The analysis draws on data collected in 2009 and 2010, as part of research led University of Alaska Fairbanks Professor Gary Kofinas. The Subsistence Sharing Network Project analyzed the flows of subsistence goods and services among in Kaktovik, Wainwright and Venetie.

Results from that earlier research found that 60 to 75 percent of the harvesting was the result of household and community cooperation, rather than hunting done by individual households. Hundreds of thousands of pounds of wild foods moved among households in the one-year study period, distributed through sharing, whaling crew shares, community feasts and other social relationships.

Findings highlighted the interconnectedness of the , different patterns of sharing for different resources and the sheer magnitude of sharing in the community, said Kofinas.

"Households not only shared within communities, their networks of sharing also extended to other communities across Alaska and to northern Canada," he said.

Shauna BurnSilver, who worked on the initial study as a postdoctoral researcher, shared the data with a systems modeler at Utah State University and two European mathematicians. Together they applied new analytical methods to evaluate the effects of removing particular households, crews, social connections or resources from the communities' subsistence systems.

The results of this research were published last week in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. The analysis found that "the principal challenge to the robustness of such communities is the loss of key households and the erosion of cultural ties linked to sharing and cooperative social relations rather than resource depletion."

Jim Magdanz, who worked on the original research and is a co-author on the paper, said the results seem intuitively correct. "People matter and social relations matter."

Anyone familiar with Alaska history can list the many shocks Alaska Native cultures have weathered, he said, including Yankee whaling, gold mining, oil development and population growth. "Yet subsistence harvests remain high, and sharing and cooperation continue to be hallmarks of Native life in Alaska," Magdanz said.

Kofinas said the findings suggest the need for policymakers and others to support Native villages' traditional practices of subsistence.

Explore further: What hunter-gatherers can tell us about fundamental human social networks

More information: Jacopo A. Baggio et al, Multiplex social ecological network analysis reveals how social changes affect community robustness more than resource depletion, Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (2016). DOI: 10.1073/pnas.1604401113

Related Stories

Student poverty study reveals disparities

July 19, 2016

Almost one in five secondary school students and nearly half of all Pacific young people in New Zealand, live in poverty, according to a new study from the University of Auckland.

Recommended for you

The oldest plesiosaur was a strong swimmer

December 14, 2017

Plesiosaurs were especially effective swimmers. These long extinct "paddle saurians" propelled themselves through the oceans by employing "underwater flight"—similar to sea turtles and penguins. Paleontologist from the ...

Averaging the wisdom of crowds

December 12, 2017

The best decisions are made on the basis of the average of various estimates, as confirmed by the research of Dennie van Dolder and Martijn van den Assem, scientists at VU Amsterdam. Using data from Holland Casino promotional ...

1 comment

Adjust slider to filter visible comments by rank

Display comments: newest first

gkam
1 / 5 (4) Nov 23, 2016
Rugged individualism is a fantasy, a trick, a recipe for failure. Where did we ever get the idea that one person is better than more in concerted effort?

Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.