Field Notes
U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service
Field Notes Entry   
SELAWIK:Science-Culture Camp Succeeds in 2016
Alaska Region, December 9, 2016
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Picking berries on the tundra at Selawik Science-Culture Camp 2016
Picking berries on the tundra at Selawik Science-Culture Camp 2016 - Photo Credit: USFWS/S. Georgette
Students observe as a local expert demonstrates how to cut a northern pike for drying.
Students observe as a local expert demonstrates how to cut a northern pike for drying. - Photo Credit: USFWS/S. Georgette

Selawik Science-Culture Camp is a vibrant partnership between the Native Village of Selawik, Selawik National Wildlife Refuge, Selawik School, Maniilaq Association and other regional partners. It has been an annual event for 14 years, and is a source of pride for the community of Selawik. Each day for 2 weeks in September, community members transport local youth to the camp site (a 15 minute boat ride away from the village) to spend the day learning, returning to the village again in the early afternoon. One grade/class comes to the camp each day. Local instructors, under the guidance of a local camp coordinator, take the lead role with Selawik Refuge staff assisting and supplementing the subsistence-focused activities with complementary educational activities.
Accomplishments: Below are details of how camp performance compared to goals and objectives.

Project Goals
1. Provide Selawik students with opportunities for personal discovery and connection in the outdoors through both structured and unstructured activities.
In keeping with past tradition and the wishes of the community, Selawik Science-Culture Camp is an unscheduled, self-directed learning environment. All students participated in the daily camp orientation as well as the niqipiaq (“real food”) lunch, but beyond that they were welcome to pick berries, explore the tundra, work on fish, help with camp chores, hang out with elders, or search for critters in the shallow water according to their own interests. The majority of students were productively engaged in one of these activities or another for the majority of the day.


2. Increase Selawik students’ skills in outdoor survival and subsistence harvest activities, including catching, processing, preparing, and eating Native foods.
Activities were provided at appropriate levels for all ages of students to meet this goal. All students learned about proper equipment and dress through firsthand experience. Scaling, cutting and drying fish was a central activity, with the youngest kids learning to scale while those who had mastered this moved on to cutting, washing and hanging. Many students assisted in the preparation of the daily meals, from gathering berries to cutting fish, meat or vegetables, or hauling water. Every student was served a lunch of healthy Native foods including caribou soup, baked or boiled fish, seal oil, and berry desserts like cranberry pudding or ikktukpalak. Older students also participated in caribou hunting.

3. Increase Selawik students’ understanding of the natural environment and resources (biology, geology, hydrology, climate change, etc.) of the Selawik area from both scientific and traditional knowledge perspectives.
Topics addressed this year included fish ID, comparative anatomy, and processing (multiple species were harvested), caribou population and hunting ethics, aquatic critter ID and water quality, and “respect for nature” from various perspectives. We learned plant ID through scavenger hunts and while picking berries.

4. Foster a sense of well-being in Selawik youth by providing educational opportunities outside the classroom and demonstrating healthy ways of living in the outdoors.
This was one of the main topics covered in the daily camp orientation with all participants. Community members and elders talked about Iñupiaq values and their importance in having a good camp experience. There was a positive environment at the camp with adults, elders and teen mentors encouraging youth, providing instruction, and praising their efforts. The variety of activities offered and the allowance for students to self-select the activities they are interested in results in a harmonious atmosphere.

5. Promote interaction between Selawik youth, elders, community members, and staff from other organizations, including Fish and Wildlife Service.
The participation at the camp included all of the above, and once again one of the hallmarks of the camp was the environment it provided where all participants were welcome to learn from one another and get to know one another. Selawik Refuge’s participants this year were Refuge Manager Susan Georgette, Outreach Specialist Brittany Sweeney, Refuge Information Technician Nichole Hanshaw, and Maintenance Worker Sonny Berry. Selawik has an active Wellness Committee and several members of that group joined in the camp this year as did teachers, camp staff and community volunteers.

6. Increase NWABSD teachers’ and FWS staff understanding of the Native way of life and the natural world of the arctic.
Teachers attended camp daily with their students. They demonstrated enthusiasm and willingness to try new things at the camp, forging connections with community members while both observing and participating in subsistence activities. Running the camp as a group of partners allows all of us to learn more about each other including how to effectively communicate and to focus on shared values. Teachers and FWS staff have the opportunity to meet Selawik residents at the camp that they might not otherwise meet in the normal course of their work, and these connections help enrich ties between all those involved in the project. These ties and connections in turn serve to make teachers and agency staff more successful in communicating and cooperating with local Iñupiaq people.

With no formal assessment, evaluation of objectives below consists of observations on the part of participating staff, in some cases only qualitative.

1. 100% of students will be able to demonstrate how to properly wear a Personal Floatation Device (PFD).
This was a requirement for each student each day prior to departing the village or the camp by boat. Students have become accustomed to this and generally buckle on their own PFD before we need to remind them.

2. 65% of students will be able to identify one aquatic invertebrate in the local waters.
Students greatly enjoyed this activity this year, and turned up a wide variety of critters which we identified from a photo guide. Water boatmen, predacious diving beetles, water fleas, orb and pouch snails were caught and viewed with magnification, as well as stickleback fish. Mild conditions kept the river edge near camp ice-free, and a new dock allowed students to safely access more critters.

3. 80% of students will be able to identify two major fish organs.
We compared the external anatomy of multiple species of fish, depending on the day’s catch. These included broad whitefish, humpback whitefish, northern pike, sheefish, burbot and grayling. We discussed how the mouths and bodies were all different and specialized for different diets, so we examined mouth parts, teeth (for pike), gills and fins. We also examined internal organs in the process of cutting and cleaning the fish for drying. Many students sampled the fresh whitefish eggs (suvaich), a local delicacy.

4. 90% of students will be able to identify three edible berries in the local area.
This year there were blueberries, blackberries (crowberries), lowbush cranberries (lingonberries) and bog cranberries near the camp in limited quantities. Students picked berries, ate berry desserts, and searched for berries and berry plants during scavenger hunt games.

5. 75% of students will practice scaling or cutting fish under the supervision of elders.
This activity was offered to all students, but not required. I would estimate that approximately 80% of students at the camp worked on fish in some way or another – some helped pack water and wash fish, while others scaled and cut. This is one of the central activities at camp each day.

6. 80% of students will be able to list three items to carry for survival.
Students were required to dress warmly and checked for proper gear prior to leaving the school, so all students learned about clothing that aids in survival. All students were required to use a PFD, and received a classroom visit prior to camp which covered proper fit and use of a PFD. Beyond this, students who participated in hunting observed the tools and equipment used by hunters in their respective boats, including radios, firearms, knives and tools, binoculars etc. During each day’s orientation students were reminded about gun safety practices.

7. 80% of students will know one new scientific fact about the area’s natural history.
This year almost every student participated in scavenger hunt activities, either a hula hoop hunt for the younger kids, or a digital photo scavenger hunt. To be successful in these hunts, students had to learn the names of and find several different local plants, and they could ask other kids, adults, or elders if they didn’t know. After participating in the scavenger hunt, most kids were able to identify Labrador tea, spruce trees, lichen, moss and berry plants.

8. 80% of students will know two new Iñupiaq words for local resources.
Elders and community members used and explained many Iñupiaq words each day. These included names for animals, fish and plants as well as terms for activities like “scale the fish” or “sharpen the ulu.” Students were encouraged to repeat these terms if they were unfamiliar to them, practicing pronunciation. Several of the scavenger hunt clues were in Iñupiaq, and students could ask for translation as needed.

9. 80% of students will know one new fact about harvesting or processing traditional subsistence foods.
Every student was given the opportunity to increase their knowledge and skills by engaging in the activities at camp. The students could self-select according to the knowledge and skills they were seeking; for example, some students preferred to help with food preparation while others headed to the fish cutting table and stayed there until all fish were processed.

10. 90% of students will sample Native foods during the camp.
One hallmark of the camp is the healthy wild foods that are prepared and served there, including less common recipes like ikktukpalak (mashed, whipped cranberries and fish eggs). Everyone at the camp dines together and enjoys the fresh food.

11. 100% of students will experience unstructured time exploring the outdoors.
(See description under goal #1)

12. 100% of students will leave a tidy, litter-free camp each day.
Each day during the orientation, students were directed to take care of “their” camp and not litter, with trash can locations noted. Students did a good job following through on these directions; more than once, I heard students remind others to clean up their trash, without adult prompting. Trash disposal is an issue in Selawik and throughout rural Alaska, so instilling this behavior in young people is important to make progress in this challenge in the future.

13. 100% of teachers will be able to describe the natural terrain of the lower Selawik River.
Participation in this camp is likely the only opportunity most Selawik school teachers have to take a boat trip outside the village during the fall. This is especially true of new teachers, which Selawik often has many of. Taking a 15-minute boat ride in the lower river and spending the day at a camp site on the tundra familiarize teachers with the terrain; every teacher who participated in camp engaged in these activities.

14. 100% of teachers will be able to list five elements or attributes of Iñupiaq culture or subsistence way of life.
Teachers participated in both the daily orientation (where Iñupiaq values were discussed) and the hands-on activities of the camp described above. This should have increased their understanding of the local culture and way of life, specifically regarding the resources in and around Selawik.
Youth Served: 161 youth attended the camp in 2016.
Stories: This year we were stuck by the following observations:

Harmony: Over the years, class sizes at Selawik school have been steadily increasing. In past years, we had 2 classes at camp each day, and at times this worked out to be pretty hectic. This year we adjusted the schedule to have only 1 class participate each day, which allowed for a more individual attention and less competition for space, equipment etc. As noted above, we also allowed kids to self-select the activities they wanted to take part in, and noticed a wide array of different interests. Some kids spent hours finding every item on every scavenger hunt list, others searched for aquatic invertebrates with dipnets almost until their hands turned blue, and some kids hopped about trying a little of everything. The atmosphere at camp this year was noted by multiple adults for its overall harmony.

Endurance: In its 14th year, Selawik Science-Culture Camp is making an impact. We observe the majority of kids are keeping the camp clean and putting PFDs on obediently for boat rides. Initially, these were messages we had to harp on to get compliance, but over time it does seem like these ideas have taken root. Similarly, we would say that an increasing proportion of kids seem to have fish-processing skills at a younger age, having a chance to practice the skills each year and to be instructed by “cool” high-school kids who encourage them. The camp is also a major component of the positive working relationship between Selawik National Wildlife Refuge and the Native Village of Selawik, the refuge and Selawik school, and also between the refuge and many local residents.
Growing the Next Generation:
Kids from grade 1 through high school have opportunities to “play” “learn” and “serve” within the US Fish & Wildlife Service’s youth engagement continuum at the Selawik Science-Culture Camp.

Play is an important part of the camp for all, with one project goal being for the kids to enjoy the freedom of unstructured time in the outdoors. Students engage in recreational activities such as traditional outdoor games, photo scavenger hunts, and searching for aquatic invertebrates.

Students learn about their environment through a cultural lens, and through practicing hands-on subsistence skills. These include scaling and cutting fish, gathering berries and making traditional desserts, and learning the names for wild plants, birds and fish in both English and Iñupiaq. Students are instructed in traditional conservation practices as well as cultural values such as “respect for nature.”

At Selawik Science-Culture Camp, students are given the opportunity to serve others. Students assist with camp chores, help elders, and host a community potluck with food gathered during the camp. High school students can volunteer to come to camp with younger classes and help mentor them for the day. All students are instructed in cultural values such as “avoidance of conflict” and “responsibility to tribe,” learning that they all need to look out for one another when at camp and work to maintain group harmony. These values form a foundation for service to others as the students grow and mature.

Overall, the camp serves to strengthen existing cultural ties to nature for the young people in Selawik. Reinforcing these ties and cultural concepts of conservation build future stakeholders in the work we are doing to conserve the natural areas all around the village. In addition, the camp serves to show the interconnectedness between healthy environment, scientific knowledge, and subsistence way of life using the local area and resources. This also serves to prepare youth to understand and engage with resource-related projects, issues and careers.

Contact Info: Brittany Sweeney, (907) 442-3799 ex.16, brittany_sweeney@fws.gov
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