Winter 2007

Transitions

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Transitions can be painful. Ask a salmon fisherman whose boat stayed at the dock most of the season, a mill worker whose job has gone overseas or a parent whose children have left home. We know that stability is short-lived, that change is the rule. We adapt by learning new skills and pursuing other interests. Just as important, we orient ourselves by remembering where we’ve come from.

Over the past 40 years, the people of King Island have had a particularly difficult time. As long as anyone can remember, this Inupiat community in Alaska has depended on the walrus hunt. In the 1960s, after a forced relocation to the mainland, they turned their ancestral home into a seasonal hunting camp. Now their quarry is getting harder to reach, thanks to changing Bering Sea ice conditions, a consequence of a shifting climate. An OSU research team led by anthropologist Deanna Paniataaq Kingston is working with them to preserve their past — and Kingston’s.

The King Island story shows how culture is intertwined with environment and economy. Two other cases in point: water and aging. Work by OSU water specialist Aaron Wolf reveals the rules developed by traditional communities to share streams and wells. Water availability swings between drought and flood, but these cultures have adapted with a focus on fairness.

Aging across the life cycle — from youth to adult to elderly — is also changing. OSU professors Karen Hooker and Richard Settersten work at different ends of the spectrum, but their work shows how human development is sensitive to new circumstances — longer life-spans and complex economic demands. Such transitions can be difficult, but Hooker and Settersten are helping us to adapt.

Nick Houtman, Editor