Ethnography Program

Grayscale photo of Unalaska church and surrounding buildings, circa 1905
Unalaska, ca. 1905

Words of Wisdom

"All of us are watchers-of television, of clocks, of traffic - but few of us are observers. Everyone is looking; not many are seeing.."
— Peter M. Leschak

The Alaska Region Ethnography Program is integral to park management, both because the ethnographers provide information on cultural issues and because they serve as liaisons with groups associated with parks. The ethnographers are frequently called upon to research and write reports on proposed changes in policy or regulations. In a recent project, ethnographers interviewed Cantwell residents about their past use of all-terrain vehicles so that the Denali National Park and Preserve superintendent could make a policy determination. Using oral history and ethnohistorical methods, the ethnographers conduct interviews on subsistence activities, community and life histories, genealogy and place names. They have used the Jukebox program (a multimedia application developed by the University of Alaska Fairbanks) to return oral history to communities for education and interpretation.

Some of the ethnographers' work is required as part of Service policy. Each park must conduct an Ethnographic Overview and Assessment, for example, such as the one completed recently for Klondike Gold Rush National Historical Park. To fulfill Servicewide performance goals, each park must add to the Ethnographic Resources Inventory each year.

Most of the Alaskan ethnographers have some duties specifically related to the Federal Subsistence Management Program. They monitor subsistence harvests, review requests to change regulations, and research communities' and individuals' eligibility to harvest subsistence resources. In compliance with federal law, the ethnographers also facilitate government-to-government relationships between Alaska Native tribal governments and the United States government. Conflicts between recreational and subsistence users provide special challenges to park managers, and ethnographers have worked with the different parties to enable solutions.

Last Updated: December 3, 2013