NOAA’s first tribal research coordinator aims to build partnerships with Alaska’s Indigenous communities

A woman ina gray sweatshirt on a boat
Mabel Baldwin-Schaeffer, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s first tribal coordinator. (Mabel Baldwin-Schaeffer)

For the first time, the federal National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration has a tribal research coordinator.

Mabel Baldwin-Schaeffer was born and raised in Kiana, a small Iñupiaq village on the Kobuk River in Northwest Alaska. She said she’ll bring that perspective with her as the first tribal coordinator for the Alaska Fisheries Science Center’s communications program.

“Near and dear to my heart has always been to improve local participation and to engage rural communities and research development,” she said. “I am most excited to work with elders and local people in the community.”

NOAA is a key federal leader of environmental research. Those involved say the new position is a step toward better representation for Alaska’s Indigenous communities.

Mabel Baldwin-Schaeffer snow crabbing in Norton Sound. (Adem Boeckmann)

As a tribal coordinator, Baldwin-Schaeffer will facilitate existing communication and outreach efforts to communities. She will also act as a liaison between NOAA and communities that rely on subsistence when scientific research takes place in the future.

“My job is to help enhance and strengthen research networks in order to build effective and helpful collaborative partnerships with Alaskan Indigenous communities,” she said.

Baldwin-Schaeffer received her bachelor’s degree in sustainability studies and a master’s in environmental science from Alaska Pacific University.

She previously led a collaborative study on offshore gold mining and its effects on the environment — specifically, on young red king crab in the Norton Sound. The study aimed to understand the effects of the Kuskokwim Bay’s water temperatures on crabs and to strengthen communications between Alaska Native communities and the commercial fishing industry.

Bob Foy, NOAA’s science and research director, said that the partnership with Baldwin-Schaeffer will benefit the organization and Indigenous communities across the state.

“Our goal with that position is to bring information into our fisheries and marine mammal management process that includes Indigenous knowledge,” he said.

Baldwin-Schaeffer started in her new job as coordinator a couple of months ago. She said she is working to establish contacts and recruit participants from diverse backgrounds and viewpoints to engage with NOAA’s projects.

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