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The Significance of Context in Community-Based Research: Understanding Discussions about Wildfire in Huslia, Alaska

Henry P Huntington, Huntington Consulting
Sarah F Trainor, University of Alaska Fairbanks
David C Natcher, Department of Anthropology, Memorial University of Newfoundland
Orville H Huntington, Alaska Native Science Commission
La'ona DeWilde, Yukon River Intertribal Watershed Council
F. Stuart Chapin III, University of Alaska Fairbanks

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Abstract

Community workshops are widely used tools for collaborative research on social-ecological resilience in indigenous communities. Although results have been reported in many publications, few have reflected explicitly on the workshop itself, and specifically on understanding what is said during a workshop. Drawing on experience from workshops held in Huslia, Alaska in 2004 on wildfire and climate change, we discuss the importance of considering cultural, political, and epistemological context when analyzing statements made by indigenous people in community workshops. We provide examples of statements whose meaning and intent were, and may remain, unclear, with descriptions of our attempts to understand what was being said by placing the statements in a variety of contexts. We conclude that, although workshops can be an efficient means of exchanging information, researchers should strive for multiple channels of communication and should be cautious in their interpretations of what is said.

Key words

Alaska; cross-cultural communication; indigenous knowledge; wildfire; workshops.
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Ecology and Society. ISSN: 1708-3087