Three-day conference on Inuit studies opens Thursday

Posted: Monday, July 29, 2002

FAIRBANKS (AP) -- The world's leading researchers on Inuit and Eskimo societies gathering in Anchorage this week will address the notion that Native people of the Arctic should be collaborators in research, not merely subjects.

The biannual Inuit Studies Conference runs from Thursday through Saturday at the University of Alaska Anchorage.

The conference has been bringing together international linguists and natural and social scientists for three decades. This is only the second time the conference has been held in Alaska.

Researchers from Alaska, Canada, Greenland, Europe and Russia will address topics ranging from mental illness to domestic violence and Native languages.

This year's theme is ''Voices from Indigenous Communities: Research, Reality and Reconciliation.''

Native speakers will address topics such as incorporating traditional knowledge in scientific research and the sometimes tricky negotiations over ''intellectual property rights'' for that knowledge.

''There's also more focus on research ethics,'' said Gordon Pullar of the Alaska Native and Rural Development department at the University of Alaska Fairbanks. ''A lot of it has to do with getting informed consent ahead of doing research and then getting information back to the community after you're done.''

Indigenous communities around the globe, increasingly linked by modern communication technology and travel opportunities, are pushing this development, said Richard Caulfield, academic program head for the UAF rural development program.

''This conference is a reflection of a broader movement worldwide of indigenous people wanting to take charge of the research agenda,'' he said.

In Greenland and Canada, researchers have to register formally before beginning their work in Native communities, said Patricia Longley Cochran, director of the Alaska Native Science Commission, a group that serves as a clearinghouse for researchers here. Nothing like that is proposed in Alaska, she said.

Cooperation between researchers and Native communities has actually been going on for a long time, often without much recognition of the Native contribution, Cochran said.

''Most of the researchers who have been around here for any time absolutely say they wouldn't have their Ph.D.'s without the help of elders in those communities,'' she said.

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