Nav: Home

Ties to Alaska's wild plants

April 25, 2016

A new series of films produced by ethnographic filmmaker Sarah Betcher explores traditional Alaskan indigenous uses of wild plants for food, medicine and construction materials.

The "Ties to Alaska's Wild Plants" project was funded by a grant from the National Science Foundation to Betcher and principle investigator Steffi Ickert-Bond, the Herbarium curator at the University of Alaska Museum of the North. The videos have been published online in a variety of locations and are accessible for free.

"We want to make sure people know that they are available to anyone who can find them useful," Betcher said. "Iñupiaq people, anyone who is interested in ethnobotany and scientist with an interest in botany who want to learn about the cultural uses of plants. This medium helps people remember the information more than just reading about it."

Betcher finished the first film in the series to honor Tlingit elder Helen Watkins, who passed away this winter. It features footage filmed in Juneau, Alaska of Watkins processing the devil's club plant to make beads, medicinal powder and infused salves and oils. The post has already received more than 2,500 views on the museum's YouTube channel.

Most of the films document Iñupiat traditions, but Betcher said there is interest in expanding the scope to explore the traditional uses of plants in other cultures and communities throughout northern latitudes.

The idea for the series came when Betcher, who has a background in conservation biology and spent many years as an interpretive ranger, took an ethnobotany class at the University of Alaska Fairbanks. The class took place in Kotzebue and included students and elders from Point Hope, Ambler, Norvik and different villages. Each day, an elder shared traditional uses of plants with the participants.

Betcher said these are cultures that have taught these traditions orally. The people learned it by watching family members. "That is what I love about documenting that through film because you are a little bit closer to recording it in a way that mirrors a traditional way of learning," she said. "You can watch that person processing the plant."

Ickert-Bond said the project is timely, especially in the face of climate change and the loss of traditional knowledge. "We wanted to bring the information particularly to Alaska Native youths in their communities," she said. "This was in response to concerns from the elders that the knowledge is not being transmitted. Video is useful in this day and age and an easy medium to feature in museums, exhibits and in classrooms."

Betcher said the films can provide researchers with a context for culture, place and a way of life, which can be very helpful in framing a topic. "I worked with an ice scientist who was just starting her doctorate. She was able to discover what was important to Alaska Native people and how they use the natural world before choosing a topic for her research."

The films are archived on the museum's website at

University of Alaska Fairbanks

Related Climate Change Articles:

Fairy-wrens change breeding habits to cope with climate change
Warmer temperatures linked to climate change are having a big impact on the breeding habits of one of Australia's most recognisable bird species, according to researchers at The Australian National University (ANU).
Believing in climate change doesn't mean you are preparing for climate change, study finds
Notre Dame researchers found that although coastal homeowners may perceive a worsening of climate change-related hazards, these attitudes are largely unrelated to a homeowner's expectations of actual home damage.
Older forests resist change -- climate change, that is
Older forests in eastern North America are less vulnerable to climate change than younger forests, particularly for carbon storage, timber production, and biodiversity, new research finds.
Could climate change cause infertility?
A number of plant and animal species could find it increasingly difficult to reproduce if climate change worsens and global temperatures become more extreme -- a stark warning highlighted by new scientific research.
Predicting climate change
Thomas Crowther, ETH Zurich identifies long-disappeared forests available for restoration across the world.
More Climate Change News and Climate Change Current Events

Best Science Podcasts 2019

We have hand picked the best science podcasts for 2019. Sit back and enjoy new science podcasts updated daily from your favorite science news services and scientists.
Now Playing: TED Radio Hour

Erasing The Stigma
Many of us either cope with mental illness or know someone who does. But we still have a hard time talking about it. This hour, TED speakers explore ways to push past — and even erase — the stigma. Guests include musician and comedian Jordan Raskopoulos, neuroscientist and psychiatrist Thomas Insel, psychiatrist Dixon Chibanda, anxiety and depression researcher Olivia Remes, and entrepreneur Sangu Delle.
Now Playing: Science for the People

#537 Science Journalism, Hold the Hype
Everyone's seen a piece of science getting over-exaggerated in the media. Most people would be quick to blame journalists and big media for getting in wrong. In many cases, you'd be right. But there's other sources of hype in science journalism. and one of them can be found in the humble, and little-known press release. We're talking with Chris Chambers about doing science about science journalism, and where the hype creeps in. Related links: The association between exaggeration in health related science news and academic press releases: retrospective observational study Claims of causality in health news: a randomised trial This...