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Survey of Living Condition in the Arctic: International Comparison Themes

Project Purpose

The intent of the Survey of Living Conditions in the Arctic is to develop a new way of measuring living conditions that is relevant to people in the Arctic and to compare living conditions among Inuit and Saami peoples of the Arctic and the indigenous peoples of Chukotka. The purpose of these comparisons is to better understand the indigenous peoples of the Arctic and the effect of policies on them. Among those expecting to draw on new ways of measuring living conditions and on comparisons of these living conditions are the Arctic Council, the Inuit Circumpolar Conference, the Saami Council, the Russian Association of Indigenous Peoples of the North, and many Arctic regional and community organizations.

The design of the Survey of Living Conditions in the Arctic is the result of a collaboration of indigenous people and Arctic social scientists from Greenland, Canada, Norway, Sweden, Finland, Russia, Denmark and the United States. Together they identified dimensions of living conditions relevant to Arctic peoples, developed an international questionnaire and a common set of research methods. The international team is now developing a set of international comparison themes. The themes discussed below are closely based on a set of themes developed by Charles Dorais of Makivik Corporation, Kuujjuaq, Canada and Ed Ward of Maniilaq, Inc., Kotzebue, Alaska. The international team discussed the themes at a meeting held in Murmansk, Russia in February 2003 (see Murmansk summary). They were further refined at a meeting of the Alaska Native Management Board held in Kotzebue, Alaska in November 2003. Brian Lyall of the Labrador Inuit Association, Goose Bay, Labrador contributed as a participant in this meeting. This draft attempts to incorporate and further develop these research themes based on discussions of the Alaska research team (Virgene Hanna, Stephanie Martin, Marg Kruse, Jack Kruse) and Brian Lyall.

To understand the research themes, it is important to understand the origin of the Survey of Living Conditions in the Arctic. Material living conditions in the Arctic, as measured by European and North American standards, are relatively poor. Especially in small settlements, people tend to experience relatively low cash incomes, poorer housing conditions, and higher costs for goods and services. Yet these measures of living conditions do not explain why many people remain in small settlements and in the Arctic as a whole. The origin of the Survey of Living Conditions in the Arctic was a 1994 survey of living conditions conducted by the Greenland Home Rule Government office of Statistics Greenland. The study was based on a Scandinavian model of measuring living conditions. Finding that the results did not explain settlement patterns in Greenland, Statistics Greenland sought international collaboration on a new approach which would define and measure living conditions in a way relevant to Arctic indigenous peoples.

The international comparison themes are all based on the shared view of the international team that outside perceptions of living conditions in the Arctic shape policies and programs inside the Arctic. To the extent that these perceptions are wrong, the policies and programs are likely to have unintended consequences. This study can educate the outside world on actual living conditions in the Arctic.

Theme One: The importance of social relationships and the standard of living to settlement patterns

Our hypothesis is that social relationships are an important reason why people choose to remain in small communities, despite a lower, cash-based standard of living there. To test this hypothesis, we first compare the standard of living between small and large communities across regions of the Arctic. We then compare the strength of social relationships, again between small and large settlements. We expect to find small communities tend to have a lower standard of living and stronger social relationships. We will then examine the association of social relationships and the standard of living to decisions to move or remain in a community. We also expect to find that social relationships are closely tied to the harvest/herding-based sector of the economy.

Theme Two: The importance of a mixed cash- and harvest/ herding- based economy to living in the Arctic

Our hypothesis is that the combination of hunting, fishing, gathering, herding, and cash sectors of the economy continue to define the prevailing lifestyle of Arctic indigenous people. To test this hypothesis, we will compare the contributions of domestic production (including harvesting, distribution, and processing of local harvests) and cash production to overall household production. A further hypothesis is that the persistence of a mixed economy is both a matter of necessity and choice. To test this hypothesis, we will examine the importance of cultural values related to domestic and cash production, and examine the extent to which households with relatively high cash incomes nevertheless engage in significant domestic production.

Theme Three: Relationships between social problems and other dimensions of living conditions

Our hypothesis is that overall well-being and social problems are both related to a combination of other dimensions of living conditions including domestic and cash production, strength of cultural values, social participation, and a sense of local control. We will test this hypothesis by examining the association of social problems and overall well-being with other dimensions of living conditions.

Theme Four: The influence of educators and missionaries

During the design and pre-testing phases of this study we discovered that regions across the Arctic share a remarkable history of outside influence through schools and churches. Much of this history has been directly experienced by our survey respondents. It deserves sharing as lessons on the intended and unintended consequences of concerted policies and actions intended to improve the quality of life of Arctic people.

Theme Five: The influence of policies on living conditions

 Governments have had a huge presence in the Arctic. They have enacted and implemented policies intended to improve housing, health, education, employment, local uses of resources, and to protect wildlife resources and the environment. Native organizations are increasingly assuming the role of outside government in developing and implementing policy. Have these policies been effective? Have there been unintended consequences? As a first step toward answering these questions, we can assess the variability of living conditions among the major policy jurisdictions of the Arctic: nations, regions and communities. Observed differences will invite comparative histories of policies in the context of geographic differences in economic resources.

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