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  • Interdisciplinarity, Native Resilience, and How the Riddles Can Teach Wildlife Law in an Era of Rapid Climate Change
  • Orville H. Huntington (bio) and Annette Watson (bio)

I had caribou and moose luck. No people believe it, but us, we believe it. We use it and it works. It's like different kind of dialect, magic words, and sounds.

Chief Andrew Isaac, from Icy Creek, Upper Tanana River, Alaska, 1988

Among Athabascans, the traditional ways of grandfathers and grandmothers are expressed in riddles so that these ways are retained in long-term memory and oral tradition. Riddles often make little sense to the Western natural scientist; sometimes they take other narrative forms like parables, sometimes they are stories cloaked as rebukes, and sometimes they express what scientists might term "paranormal" realities. Common to all is that these riddles are composed to make the listener think, but they seem intangible to those disciplines based on Enlightenment humanist thought, founded on the Cartesian logic that assumes "I think, therefore I am." Riddles are intangible in a world where only humans can think, know, and act, an assumption that perpetuates only one kind of logic about how the world works. Yet when Chief Isaac spoke of luck and stories of tricks with our medicine, it [End Page 49] was with conviction. His riddles express a way of believing and knowing the relationships to the natural world, and how riddles affect us in our living world. But this knowledge is not in any textbook, is rarely used, and if referred to is often politely cited as "anecdotal" by Western natural scientists.

These same natural scientists, however, command the discourse of wildlife law and climate change policy, even though these changes in ecologies most concern and directly affect Native peoples. In this essay we identify the limits of expertises currently called "inter disciplinary" that are used to examine climate change, wildlife regulations, and the "resilience" of Native communities. But in this essay we also aim to forge a different kind of interdisciplinary approach that utilizes both Native and Western intellectual traditions, without trying to evaluate Native knowledge through Western disciplines.

We specifically argue that using a "different kind of dialect" within academia is necessary to meet the challenges of rapid climate change. We do this beginning with our very research and writing partnership: while Orville Huntington is Koyukon Athabascan, a member of the Huslia Tribe, Annette Watson is a non-Native geographer. Our collaborations began in 2003, when Watson first negotiated a research partnership with the Huslia tribe, the northwestern-most Athabascan community in Interior Alaska. Over years of sometimes living and hunting and gathering together with Koyukon tribal members,1 Watson developed a friendship and collaboration with Huntington, where we came to realize a disjuncture between the ways that Koyukon would speak about and act within the environment, and the ways that natural scientists concerned with climate change and wildlife management would talk about the natural world. Watson also began to note the similarities that the Koyukon and other Indigenous peoples' worldviews had to the kinds of social theories geographers and other critical social scientists began to debate; together Huntington and Watson developed a writing partnership to elucidate how Koyukon Native philosophies could contribute to such discussions in meaningful ways.2

So in this essay, while Huntington discusses the implications of the riddles of his relatives and ancestors in his Athabascan region, Watson will bring the tools of the critical social scientist into our discussions of interdisciplinarity and the context and content of these riddles. Thus in turn we will each analyze the spiritual discourses of Koyukon Athabascan elders, together utilizing the methods of autobiography, ethnohistory, ethnography, and poststructural theory, drawing on the literatures of American Indian studies, geography, natural resource management, and climate change.

In the next section, the first-person "I" refers to Orville Huntington, who narrates how colonialism and climate change has affected his region, and who gives examples of some riddles; in the section that [End Page 50] follows, Annette Watson argues that studies of Indigenous knowledges leave out the spirituality contained in riddles; and then for the remainder of the essay we will return to our joint perspective. In this...