SNOWY is a collaborative project between Subarctic Indigenous communities in the Yukon River Basin (YRB) and scientists from Colorado State University (CSU), the US Geological Survey (USGS), the US Forest Service (USFS), and the grassroots, non-profit organization, the Yukon River Inter-Tribal Watershed Council (YRITWC) to combine qualitative and quantitative data on water quality and quantity of the Yukon River. Building upon the existing partnership and water-quality monitoring program between the USGS and the YRITWC, established in 2005 to measure the effects of climate change on the biogeochemistry of the Yukon River, SNOWY will provide a holistic view of how climate change is affecting Yukon River communities by exploring the social/cultural/economic/spiritual relationships of local people to the annual hydrologic cycle of the YRB. Utilizing community capacity that was developed as a key component of the water-quality monitoring project, SNOWY will collect snow and water data during the winter, complementing the existing summer data collection, and create a database that truly reflects the hydrology of the system. CSU and USGS scientists are working with community members through meetings, workshops, and interviews in order to a gain a more complete understanding of the social and environmental changes in the YRB in recent years.
A key component of the project is the "Healing Journey", a field trip taken by scientists and community members to travel a portion of the Yukon River by dog sled and/or snowmachine in the winter months. YRITWC has conducted a number of summertime Healing Journeys in order to bring together community and scientific understandings of the YRB and the changes taking place. Previous Healing Journeys have been conducted in traditional open water transports, such as canoes. The YRITWC has found that arriving via traditional transport creates an instant rapport with local people who are then willing and interested to learn more about the science that accompanies the trip. By employing this same technique in the winter season the SNOWY?s 300-mile Healing Journey will begin at Russian Mission, travel to the mouth of the Yukon and end at the community of Chevak, a coastal community on a tributary of the Yukon River. Although many of the research questions and hypotheses have been developed, the SNOWY team anticipates that others will arise through community dialogs that will be facilitated during the project.
Yukon River communities were involved in the conceptualization of this project and will be directly involved in the research through training, data gathering, analysis, and the sharing and exchange of knowledge, both scientific and indigenous that will take place throughout the course of this project. Scientists and communities will be working together in order to push the boundaries of current epistemological and ontological thinking while creating real solutions to climate change impacts.