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Advancing Tribal Knowledge and Local Expertise

Norton Sound & the Seward Peninsula


​Indigenous knowledge — a deep understanding of the land handed down through generations — is proving to be one of the most effective strategies for detecting and responding to climate change.

Alaska is warming twice as fast as the lower 48 states. The Norton Sound region along the state's western coast has been home to the Yup'ik and Inupiat peoples for centuries. In recent years, their livelihoods and traditions are being threatened by the impacts of climate change. Native communities are losing their homes and critical infrastructure to accelerating climate impacts, including tidal surges, eroding coastlines, disappearing sea ice, and melting permafrost. The caribou, salmon, berries, and other resources that sustain them physically and spiritually are fewer in number or more difficult to access.

​With support and resources, Alaska Native Villagers have the knowledge, practices, and adaptive capacity to tackle this climate crisis.


Spawning sockeye salmon. Salmon play an integral part in Native Villagers' cultural, spiritual, economic, and nutritional well-being and way of life, and they are one of the "first foods" honored at tribal ceremonies. In 2021, salmon all but vanished from western Alaska. threatening Native Villagers' livelihoods and cultural traditions. 

The Norton Bay Watershed Council collaborates with local Alaskan tribal communities to adapt to climate change challenges and ensure the sustainability of water and subsistence resources for generations to come.

Since 2013, we’ve been working with the Council to address the climate crisis facing Alaska Native Villages of the Norton Sound and the Seward Peninsula Region. Over this more than decade-long relationship, we have provided assistance with climate adaptation planning and training, ocean and coastal management planning, as well as a range of implementation projects, including an assessment of vulnerability and risks that threaten the watershed's aquatic habitat and subsistence resources, along with an accompanying monitoring and evaluation plan.


The Climate Adaptation & Action Plan for the Norton Bay Watershed has served as a basis for implementation efforts by several Villages.


Traditional cutting and drying fish. Warm water temperatures likely underpinned many of the factors that caused the decline of western salmon, which culminated with the lowest salmon run on record in 2022. Alaska Native children have stopped learning how to catch, cut, dry, and smoke fish—traditions passed down over generations.

We’re also supporting Tribal efforts to advance cooperative co-stewardship agreements with federal agencies, ensuring that Indigenous Knowledge and culture are prioritized in decisions surrounding resource management and strategies to address the climate crisis. 

Indigenous Knowledge systems are diverse among and within Arctic Indigenous Peoples, and reflect deep and rich knowledge that situates and contextualises values, traditions, governance and practical ways of adapting to the ecosystem over millennia.

Climate Change 2022: Impacts, Adaptation and Vulnerability. Contribution of Working Group II to the Sixth Assessment Report of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change

Over the past 6 years, we have collaborated with partners at the University of Alaska Fairbanks to help the Native Village of Unalakleet evaluate the feasibility of establishing a regional data collection program utilizing unmanned aircraft systems, commonly known as drones, and comparing them to other data collection methods. The research aimed to assess the climate risks faced by the Unalakleet and other Norton Sound Native Villages across nine scientific study areas: coastal erosion, river and sea flood preparation, infrastructure, water quality, plant community, cultural and historical sites, extractable materials, wildlife, and air quality.

Following this initial effort, we supported the University's work to develop and implement an on-the-ground drone training program for members of the Native Village of Unalakleet. The program collected critical data for distribution to local and regional decision-makers and state and federal agencies.


The program’s long-term goal is to build regional capacity to respond to various emergent situations and events caused by climate change, among these coastal erosion, flooding, oil spills, and search and rescue missions. As part of this second project, MFPP conducted an additional feasibility study on the viability of expanding the project regionally.

Collaborators & Funders.

We proudly collaborate with a diverse group of local leaders and technical partners, including the Norton Bay Watershed Council, the Native Village of Elim, the Native Village of Unalakleet, Water Policy Consulting, the University of Alaska Fairbanks, and The Doodle Biz.

The Bureau of Indian Affairs, the Arctic Domain Awareness Center (ADAC)—a Department of Homeland Security Center of Excellence located at the University of Alaska Anchorage—and the National Science Foundation’s Innovation Corps (I-Corps™) have provided funding for the drone projects. Additional funding is being sought to support this regional expansion.

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