Students in Kivalina learn about the Wulik watershed

The region is home to the subsistence resources that sustain NANA shareholders physically, culturally and spiritually. As Iñupiat, the responsibility to protect the land, wildlife and water is part of our culture. That is why the NANA mission includes the protection and enhancement of corporate landholdings. One of the ways NANA ensures environmental protection on NANA lands is through the Environmental team, a division of the Natural Resources department. This team works with federal, state and private partners, like Teck, on compliance, policy and procedure issues to protect subsistence resources and NANA lands for generations to come.

One of the team's goals is to build environmental capacity in the NANA region and with NANA shareholders. While there are many cultural ways we are taught to care for the land from a young age, our people need to utilize the tools and science of today to provide oversight of responsible development projects like Red Dog Mine.

This spring, NANA's Environment team launched a hands-on workshop with McQueen students in Kivalina to spark their interest in the science of environmental testing. Lyle Melkerson, McQueen's science teacher, worked with NANA to develop a project that would help his students understand the Wulik River watershed. The Wulik enters the Chukchi Sea at Kivalina. The goal was to help students understand how local geology and chemistry of the local landscape interact with water.

NANA's Environmental Scientist, Alison Kelley, and Carrie Klein, NANA's guest geologist, spent the day with McQueen's 11th and 12th-grade students. The workshop began with a valiant attempt to core through the thick ice on the village's lagoon to collect water samples. The students never seemed to tire. But, even with their effort, a brand new ice auger and a very sharp blade, they couldn’t drill all the way through the deep, hard ice down to the water. After four attempts, the students made their last at a spot right where the lagoon enters the Chukchi Sea. They ultimately struck water below more than two feet of ice. They filled their sample bottles and hauled the equipment back to the lab to learn more about the Wulik River watershed.

The students assembled topographic maps of the watershed and learned how to read the features on the maps to see how local geology contributes to the arrangement of its natural features. Using mineral samples from the Red Dog Mine area, the students learned how different types of rocks help shape the watershed’s creeks, hills and other landscape features and how, when water travels over rocks, they erode to form river bends, canyons and washes that contribute to the water’s overall chemistry. The students learned water chemistry concepts and conducted tests on lagoon samples to measure pH, sulfates and iron. They compared their water sample results with tap water and vinegar.

The NANA team then worked with middle school students to conduct multiple tests on a variety of samples and compared the different results. The day ended with the fourth-grade students; they used mineral “streak tests” to differentiate rock types and performed basic water tests.

All of the students did a great job. Maybe a few future members of NANA's Environment team will come from McQueen school! Thanks to the staff and students of McQueen and the community of Kivalina for a great visit!