February 22, 2022
University of Arizona Press author Susan Crate and her new book, Once Upon the Permafrost: Knowing Culture and Climate Change in Siberia, was recently featured in a Royal Anthropological Institute Research Seminar and Book Launch.
Once Upon the Permafrost is a longitudinal climate ethnography about “knowing” a specific culture and the ecosystem that culture physically and spiritually depends on in the twenty-first-century context of climate change. Crate has spent three decades working with Sakha, the Turkic-speaking horse and cattle agropastoralists of northeastern Siberia, Russia. In her new book, she reveals Sakha’s essential relationship with alaas, the foundational permafrost ecosystem of both their subsistence and cultural identity. Sakha know alaas via an Indigenous knowledge system imbued with spiritual qualities. This counters the scientific definition of alaas as geophysical phenomena of limited range. Climate change now threatens alaas due to thawing permafrost, which, entangled with the rural changes of economic globalization, youth out-migration, and language loss, make prescient the issues of ethnic sovereignty and cultural survival.