Indigenous Observation Network History


Development of the Indigenous Observation Network (ION) through water

This work is made possible only through the development of partnerships with communities along the river. This would not be possible without community involvement!

The Yukon River Basin consists of 330,000 square miles, with one-third in the Yukon Territory, Canada and two-thirds in Alaska. From 2000 to 2005, the United States Geological Survey (USGS) conducted the first Basin scale water quality study and formally set baseline conditions. The collaboration of the USGS and Environment Canada (EC) was essential for a study of this scale; as the Yukon flows from Canadian headwaters to the Bering Sea.

In the past, native people used ‘traditional science’ to develop better hunting methods, techniques to tan hides, refine survival tools and maintain knowledge of traditional medicine.

The Indigenous people of the Yukon River have been forming an observational ‘baseline’ for thousands of years. Until the modern age, the ‘best technology’ to make observations was our experience on the land. The best means of organizing this ‘baseline’ data was through stories generated from experience. The modern age has brought new organizational tools and new methods of inquiry: ‘western science’.

Our goal is to empower communities with the tools and skills necessary to conduct ‘traditional science’ in the modern age.

In 2004, YRITWC and USGS began partnering to continue the water quality observation program into a long-term database. YRITWC worked with USGS to develop sampling methods, protocols and a training structure modeled after USGS methods (USGS, TWRI, Book 9), as well as an EPA aproved quality assurance project plan (QAPP). By streamlining the suite of constituents (focused on climate change indicators) we are able to collect a large set of information in a cooler the size of a 6-pack.

In March 2006, YRITWC began monitoring the Yukon River Basin, funded by an Administration for Native Americans (ANA) grant for regulatory enhancement. Sample sites were established between Dawson City, Yukon Territory, and Pilot Station, Alaska. Discretionary funds were used to establish the Dawson City site.

In early 2007, YRITWC received a grant from Environment Canada (EC) to conduct a workshop with EC, USGS, Yukon Territory Government (YTG), and Water Survey of Canada. At the workshop, interested Lands department personel received training on how to collect water for biogoechemical analysis and participate in the basin wide observation network.

The 2008 field season was the first time in history that water quality was seen at the basin scale. The formation of the Indigenous Observation Network (ION), the network of technicians from the head waters to the bering sea, made it possible to capture the first ever "snapshot" of water quality across the entire basin.

ANA funding expired in October 2008 and the execution of the 2009 field season presented a major hurdle. A partnership with the State of Alaska Department of Environmental Conservation (ADEC) and the EPA National Rivers and Streams Assessment Program provided funding for a 600 mile synoptic survey of the Yukon River main-stem between Fort Yukon and Kaltag, Alaska. For the rest of the network, dedicated interns and Indigenous governments in Alaska provided cost sharing for shipping samples and donations for staff support.

Over the brief four year existence of ION we have established 39 fixed station water qualtity sites, 11 (soon to be 20) active layer observation grids (ALN), trained 100+ local technicians and directly involve 23 Indigenous governments.

The current sample sites are located in: Atlin, Teslin, Carcross, Carmacks, Whitehorse, Mayo, Dawson, Eagle, Fairbanks, Fort Yukon, Venetie, Arctic Village, Nenana, Huslia, Ruby, Anvik, Marshall, Russian Mission, Pilot Station, St. Mary’s, Chevak, Kotlik and Stebbins.

The technicians collect field readings for pH, water temperature, conductivity and dissolved oxygen. Records are kept on field sheets and sent with the water samples to YRITWC staff. Samples are post processed and sent to the USGS lab in Boulder CO for analysis of dissolved gas, major ions, nutrient, oxygen 18 and dissolved organic carbon content.