Visualizing the landscape of tribal communities

Photo of Adelheid Herrmann
Photo courtesy of Adelheid Herrmann
Adelheid Herrmann, an Indigenous researcher from UAF’s Alaska Center for Climate Assessment and Policy, works to build rural communities' capacity to respond and adapt to climate change.

The University of Alaska Fairbanks has released a set of resources to help researchers and academics working in rural Alaska understand the complexities of tribal communities. 

The new materials come amid increased focus on Arctic climate research and Indigenous priorities, a trend that tribal communities welcome but can find taxing.

Adelheid Herrmann, a co-investigator at UAF’s Alaska Center for Climate Assessment and Policy, developed the resources as part of her work building capacity in rural communities to respond and adapt to climate change. Herrmann, of Dena’ina and German descent, is from the community of Naknek, Alaska.

More research and funding is being directed toward the Arctic and climate change. Simultaneously, efforts are shifting to center on Indigenous knowledge and coproduction of research with rural communities and tribes. On May 20, 2024, the National Science Foundation, one of the largest funders of Arctic research, began requiring researchers to gain approval from tribal governments for proposals that may impact tribal resources or interests. 

Herrmann’s materials, which include a background article and two graphics, help people visualize the overwhelming number of external and internal forces that tribes and tribal members deal with daily.

A day in the life of an Alaskan Tribe graphic.
Graphic courtesy of Alaska Center for Climate Assessment and Policy
This graphic, created by UAF researcher Adelheid Herrmann, conveys the enormity of the engagements and requests Alaska tribes receive from other entities.

The “Day in the Life of an Alaskan Tribe” schematic shows dozens of outside entities that tribes engage with and receive requests from. Her second graphic, “Internal Stressors Tribal Members Face” focuses on demands that individuals juggle while trying to protect their livelihoods, culture and subsistence ways of life. 

Herrmann initiated the “Day in the Life of an Alaskan Tribe” concept in the 1990s after traveling throughout the Bristol Bay, Aleutians and Pribilof Islands region for more than a decade as an Alaska state representative. She refined the material during her ongoing postdoctoral research at ACCAP. 

Herrmann hopes not only that these graphics will be a resource for researchers, academics, and federal and state agency personnel working in rural Alaska but also that tribes, tribal members and tribal regional organizations will use the materials to educate the outside world. 

“It’s a continuous process educating those unfamiliar with Alaska and our governing systems to help them understand the depth of the worldview of Alaska Native peoples,” said Herrmann.

The short article that accompanies the graphics covers other important factors that academics and researchers should know. Those include: capacity limitations at tribal organizations; the complex governing system within Alaska tribes; and the climate grief that individuals and communities may experience while facing the potential destruction of lifeways, sacred lands and personal and community property. Herrmann urges academics and researchers to educate themselves about these issues and investigate and comply with research and engagement protocols set forth by tribal entities.

Internal stressors tribal members face graphic
Graphic courtesy of the Alaska Center for Climate Assessment and Policy
This graphic by UAF researcher Adelheid Herrmann portrays some of the stressors that members of Alaska's tribes deal with in their personal lives, often on a daily basis.

“I have read and cited and keep as background dozens of law journal articles and other academic articles, as well as full-length legal textbooks,” said Freddie R. Olin IV, an enrolled member of the Native Village of Tanana, a UAF College of Indigenous Studies graduate student and a reviewer of the article. ”To date, as far as I know, Dr. Herrmann's work including visual layouts has not been published in the same style.

“I believe Dr. Herrmann's work will accurately summarize and portray in a snapshot the complex layers of Alaska Native governance and what individual Alaska Native professionals living in rural Alaska experience on a daily basis," Olin said.

This work ties into another project led by Herrmann, known as Fiscal Pathways, that assesses the effectiveness of federal tribal climate funding and offers suggestions for removing obstacles to it. 

Herrmann will give an ACCAP webinar on the resources on Sept. 25 at 11 a.m.  

ADDITIONAL CONTACT: Adelheid Herrmann,