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Winter Reflections: Well-Being and Resource Access

By Rachel Donkersloot

This is a tricky time of year. The calendar says we’ve just barely crossed into winter. Our minds and bodies, immersed in bouts of ice fog and subzero sunshine, know that the season’s astronomical start lags behind its existential arrival. What a rush to remember what winter really (I mean, really) feels like! I was in Naknek in late November for a stint of 35 below with wind chill.

Photo: Rachel Donkersloot

Despite the biting cold and bad roads, we still had more than 20 community members show up to our Graying of the Fleet project meeting to discuss potential solutions to ensuring local fisheries participation in Bristol Bay. (I’m beaming right now, Bristol Bay, I love you).

Two weeks ago in Togiak, at another community meeting, our local host spent her afternoons at 13 below, pulling 35 pike from a frozen lake. Food. Sustenance. Fun. A childhood friend living in southeast has been busy making jam, jars and jars of beautiful jam, into the wee hours of the night. Old man winter can’t stop good living and the work in requires. My fellow Alaskans are riding bikes on frozen beaches, backcountry skiing, baking, napping, you name it. We excel at winter wellness. 

Wellness and well-being are topics I’ve given much thought to this year, particularly the relationship between rural well-being and marine resource access. Well-being can be defined as “a state of being with others and the environment, which arises when human needs are met, when individuals and communities can act meaningfully to pursue their goals, and when individuals and communities enjoy a satisfactory quality of life” (Breslow et al. 2016; Armitage et al. 2012; McGregor 2008).


Photo: Alaska Seafood

This fall, I helped to organized the Anchorage-based workshop: Long-term challenges to Alaska salmon and salmon dependent communities. Well-being emerged as a salient theme at the workshop with a panel and breakout session dedicated to the subject. Conference proceedings will be available here in early 2017.

The start of 2017 also marks the launch of another project that I am excited to lead with UAF researchers, Courtney Carothers and Jessica Black. Together, we are working with an exceptional team of Indigenous and non-Indigenous researchers, practitioners, and knowledge bearers to identify, develop, and refine indicators of well-being in the context of Alaska salmon systems.

Through this work we aim to better understand interdependencies between sociocultural and ecological systems, salmon-human connections and contributions to well-being in Alaska, and relationships between management and well-being. Informed by a diverse range of expertise, our workgroup will identify a conceptual framework for better integrating well-being concepts into the governance of Alaska salmon systems. You can read more about this project here, as well as others funded through the State of Alaska’s Salmon and People project.

See you in the new year. Be well.

Rachel Donkersloot is AMCC’s Working Waterfronts Program Director. She can be reached at 907.277.5357 or via email

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