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Qawalangin Tribe seeks locals with environmental knowledge to help with climate change adaptation plan

Theo Greenly

As Unalaska tries to adapt to the changing climate, the Qawalangin Tribe is looking for locals with knowledge of the island’s berry seasons, bird populations, and more.

The tribe is working on an assessment of Unalaska’s climate vulnerability. At a community meeting Wednesday, tribe leaders put out a call for help.

Qawalangin Resilience Coordinator Shayla Shaishnikoff said participants — who’ll be called community knowledge holders — do not need formal scientific training to serve on the assessment committee.

“All of you here and all of you online are members of our community,” said Shaishnikoff at the meeting. “You are our people. We are the ones who know this land, we are the ones who know our oceans, and so you guys know better than any scientist based out of Anchorage or Homer about what's going on here on the ground.

Participants will be paid to share information on topics including when seabirds show up, how long berry picking season lasts, and other environmental issues that may demand planning and adaptation. Shaishnikoff said the guidance will equip local decision-makers to better identify threats and challenges driven by climate change.

“The local and indigenous knowledge that you have is science, regardless of what other people might say,” she said. “This is local indigenous science, traditional ecological knowledge, and this is so valuable.

Six committee members will meet quarterly in 2023, with meetings based on the concept of guustilix̂.

“Guustilix̂ is the Unangan form of visiting,” said Shaishnikoff. “And essentially, what that entails is when you get together with your friends, your family, colleagues, anybody — you sit down over coffee or tea, maybe some fish dip or snacks, like we have here in the office, and really just create a space for where there's trust and where we're going to have an organic conversation of knowledge sharing. And really, just sitting in a safe, comfortable space.

To contribute or learn more, contact Shaishnikoff at or 907-581-2920.

Sofia was born and raised in the Rocky Mountains of Colorado. She’s reported around the U.S. for local public radio stations, NPR and National Native News. Sofia has a Master of Arts in Environmental Science and Natural Resource Journalism from the University of Montana, a graduate certificate in Documentary Studies from the Salt Institute and a Bachelor of Arts in Studio Arts from the University of Colorado Boulder. In between her studies, Sofia was a ski bum in Telluride, Colorado for a few years.
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