Have you met... Victoria Bushman?

Victoria is the only Inuit conservation biologist in the world!
She has lived across the Arctic, even living and sleeping in her van! She chose a rare university program that offered most of it’s classes outside, where they often started fieldwork at 5 o’clock in the morning.

Victoria Bushman in her van at the Arctic.
Victoria was always interested in science. She grew up on the land meaning she had a lot of exposure to wildlife and always loved animals. When she was 15 years old, she saw a pod of 100 beluga whales for the first time and it was at that moment she decided to become a wildlife biologist.
She got her first job as a research assistant in that same year working as a zooarchaeologist on a project about the impact of climate change on Arctic shore erosion and cultural heritage. Then, she focused on historic walrus populations by identifying walrus bones for DNA analysis. But she wanted to work with live animals, so she began to work with wild elephant seals and sea lions off the coast of California. Since graduating from undergrad with a degree in Conservation Biology, she has taken two Masters degrees in Wildlife Science and Environmental Policy. Currently, she is finishing her PhD entitled “Indigenous contributions to Arctic biodiversity conservation”, in a flexible program where she guides her own research and can work anywhere in the Arctic.  Originally from Alaska, she currently lives in Greenland.

How important is it to combine Indigenous knowledge with scientific knowledge for the conservation of  Arctic biodiversity?
Partnering Indigenous knowledge and science is very important, and they are complementary! The Arctic is data deficient, so science needs help and we are stronger together. For example, Indigenous communities know a lot about ecology and population dynamics because they are in the environment everyday Indigenous communities know all about the critical things that are necessary to manage Arctic species. Indigenous knowledge is sometimes misunderstood as people think that it is old and static knowledge, but it’s not! It is a living and breathing system of knowing, updated every day by people living there and it incorporated new knowledge and experiences from climate change. It’s difficult to partner Indigenous knowledge with scientific knowledge because of the different formats both kinds of knowledge take. One of the places where indigenous knowledge and scientific knowledge partner well together is in spatial mapping – it’s a good way to visualize how these pieces of knowledge bring unique information together.

In your opinion, how important is group work in the Arctic fieldwork?
I think it’s very important to network in science but I’m doing most of my work alone since I’m the only Inuit conservation biologist working in the Arctic and the work that I want to do doesn’t really exist yet. So I have to build the foundation for my research largely alone. I’m looking forward to improving this aspect! Actually, I’m trying to do so through a future postdoc, where I can connect more easily with people that want to do this kind of work and get more funds.

If you had to choose someone to be side-by-side with you in your adventures, which qualities do you think are key to survive in the Arctic?
I would like someone that is weatherproof [laughs!], open-minded and willing to change their preconceived notions about the Arctic. Also, I think it’s very important to be someone who can be relaxed about what they know, put aside their ego related to their academic work and be in a position to understand that they are not the only knowledgeable person in the room. We should learn to listen to others, especially Indigenous community members.

With your kind of background, what type of work could you do instead of being in the field?
For instance, I could be a conservation planner! I can see myself doing this and I almost committed to a job for doing it some time ago. I could also work in community-based monitoring projects which is a hot topic in the Arctic right now, kind of a citizen science type gig, where you work with the animals together with the community. Other than that, someone with my background could manage protected areas (very cool if you want to be in the middle of nowhere all alone!). Or they could work with animals in captivity, although I’m not interested in this as I like to work with animals outside. There’s also conservation consulting, which I do a little bit right now with Indigenous organizations that want to work closely with science.

Okay, …you can do so many things! But if you weren’t a scientist, what would you do in your professional life?
Victoria's watercolors.
I think about this all the time! If I weren’t a scientist, I think it would be fun to be a professional climber. This is my dream! I would want to live in a van and do absolutely nothing to benefit society, being totally selfish! [laughs!]

On a very bad day, when you are alone in your van and it’s winter, zero light, no animals, overall a very bad day… what do you do to chill?
I do watercolors of animals!

It was a pleasure to meet Victoria, she is such a strong researcher that really believes in her cause. Besides, she has an artistic side, don't you agree?

Feel free to ask any questions!

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