Uvaŋa atiġa Asiqłuq. Aapaga Sanguk. Aanaga Aileen-mi. Uvaŋa Qawiaraġmiu. My Iñupiaq name is Asiqłuq. My white fox name is Sean Topkok, and I prefer to be called Asiqłuq. I am Iñupiaq, Sámi, Kven, Irish, and Norwegian. My parents are the late Aileen and Clifford Topkok from Teller, Alaska. I am Kauwerak from the Seward Peninsula. My father was Iñupiaq, Kven, and Sámi, and his first language was Iñupiaq. My mother was born and raised in Teller. I was born and raised in Spenard, Alaska. I am still learning the Iñupiaq and Sámi languages, and speak English and Norwegian at home.
My research interests include Indigenous education, well-being, documenting community knowledge, sustaining our cultural heritage(s), song and dance, ancestral knowledge and methodologies,
Your thoughts on the importance and potential of interdisciplinary and international Indigenous research and their contribution to Indigenous groups, communities, and society.
I feel it is important to work with various disciplines and internationally when conducting Indigenous research. The various disciplines offer a wide variety of perspectives, and it can utilize ancestral knowledge and colonized education. When we work internationally, we can see what is and is not working in various Indigenous communities; and we can then adapt it to our locale. We must also keep in mind that the term ‘researcher’ includes Indigenous community members, Elders, students, and community leaders.
Challenges you have encountered in conducting transdisciplinary research and how they were overcome.
Many Indigenous communities feel there has been a lot of outside researchers who come into their communities and just take information without giving credit or results back to the community. Even as an Indigenous researcher working with my own cultural group, there is hesitation from community members due to me being employed at an institution. I frame my questions about what is important for my children to learn. We need to have more Alaska Natives earn their doctorate degrees to become culturally respectful researchers for Alaska communities. At the same time, Alaska communities need to recognize Indigenous researchers have the skills to conduct research and live their cultural heritage and values.
Research ethics and other considerations to pay attention when we pursue research.
Any research working with Indigenous communities must involve community councils and Elders at the very beginning of planning research. These community members must be actively involved with every decision and step during the research. The goal of all research should be to benefit the community first, including presenting any research results and findings in a way that communities understand the research. This can only be accomplished by building authentic relationships with the communities which are long lasting. Any researcher should not just conduct research for research’s sake. All researchers must commit to the community’s well-being by maintaining relationships with the community.
Following the previous question, how do you collaborate with communities in research to ensure ethical practice? What are some mechanisms in place to foster respect and collaboration?
First, the Indigenous community needs to be actively involved with all stages of research, especially the planning of research before any proposal is made. One must get approval first by the community council, then by their own institution. Those Indigenous community members need to be equally (or even more) compensated for their involvement throughout the research. The research must follow all cultural protocols, whether it is written or non-written. Updates need to be given to Indigenous communities on a regular basis. The research must be flexible to accommodate the community’s ever-changing schedule. Whatever products come from the research (e.g., posters, data, DVDs, draft and final papers) should be given to the community first. Credit for the community’s involvement should not be tokenized by allowing co-authorship of any final products. Researchers have to be transparent about why they are researching in a community.
Suggestion for possible international Indigenous research partnership and collaboration.
There are wonderful examples of Indigenous research worldwide. In Guovdageaidnu, Norway, the Sámi have successfully strengthened their heritage language from around 30% to over 90% in their community. The Māori in Aotearoa (New Zealand) have successfully graduated 500 Māori PhDs within five years. There are many other successes with Indigenous communities throughout the world. We must share with one another, because we share a history of marginalization and oppression. We need to share with each other how we can maintain our cultural heritages in contemporary times. We need to share the knowledge of our ancestors to help sustain the heritages of all of our descendants. In order to accomplish this, we need to meet to maintain and collaborate in an authentic manner, just as we expect non-Indigenous researchers build authentic relationships.
What are some of your observations of Indigenous peoples during the current pandemic? What might be some traditional cultural and customary strategies that people have adopted in response to these challenging times?
I will share what I have written in a social media post on 20 March 2020:
100 years ago, there was a worldwide pandemic with the influenza. What did we learn from that? From an Alaska Native perspective, the Iñupiat in Shishmaref, Alaska, had sentinels to make sure nobody entered into their community regardless if a person was infectious or not, for the well-being of the whole community. There were many other villages who didn’t survive as well as Shishmaref. What I learned from their survival is vigilance and Iñuuniaqatiunik Ikayuutiłiq (Responsibility to Tribe). Another thing that happened during that time was a serum run. As the 2020 Iditarod is ending, it is an annual reminder about the community of Nome who had patients waiting for more serums which could only be delivered utilizing an Alaska Native mode of transportation, dogsledding. What I learned from that is Savaqatigiiyułiq (Cooperation), Kamakkutiłiq (Respect for Others), and Savvaqtułiq (Hard Work).
What are our descendants going to learn from our current situation? What are we doing now that our ancestors lived in order for us to survive? I feel what should drive us now is Piqpaksriḷiq Iḷiḷgaanik (Love for Children). Whether we realize it or not, they are watching and learning how we are handling this current pandemic. We must honor our ancestors’ perseverance! We must show Atchiksuałiq (Humility) and Nagliktuutiqaġniq (Compassion). We may not do everything right, but we can strive for what should be done to survive for our descendants.
I want to thank the healthcare workers who are dedicated to caring for our needs. I want to thank the volunteers who step up for our communities. I want to thank the teachers who miss their students. I want to thank the families who are taking care of each other. More importantly I want to thank the children for their Uttakiragagin (Patience) for we are doing the best that we can. I send my love to the world as we need as much love as we can give. Please remember so we can show resiliency!