Equality and equity in Arctic communities: how household-level social relations support community-level social resilience

Shauna B. Burnsilver, Jesse M. Coleman, James Magdanz

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Social and economic inequality are increasingly linked with greater vulnerability and compromised resilience for communities navigating ecological and institutional change. We focused on social resilience; i.e., the ability of foundational social institutions of sharing and cooperation in three Arctic Indigenous communities to maintain key social processes and structures in response to contemporary challenges. We explored two propositions: first, sharing and cooperation are distributional processes that increase the equality of access to wild foods at the community level. Second, sharing and cooperation embody cultural mechanisms that express trust and build social cohesion. Our analyses were based on household-level harvest and social network data that represented social ties and magnitudes of wild foods flowing from crews and between households. Qualitative and quantitative results indicated that material, emotional, and cultural outcomes of sharing and cooperation act across social levels—households to communities—to increase equality and equity. For all three communities, Lorenz curves and Gini coefficients indicated that distributions of wild food were more equal when sharing, cooperative-provisioning, and self-provisioning were considered than household self-provisioning alone. Network regressions emphasized close kinship and total harvest as social mechanisms strongly predictive of sharing outflows across communities (i.e., people share with family, and the more you have, the more you give). Income effects were mixed. There was evidence of different forms of need-based sharing in all communities, which suggests that social relationships also act as mechanisms to improve equity. Qualitative results linked decisions to share and cooperate with outcomes of well-being, and cultural integrity at household and community levels. While production of wild foods occurs at greater-than-household scales, the State manages wild food production at individual and household scales, which sets up conflicts between Indigenous communities and the State. Sharing and cooperative networks embedded in Arctic mixed economies are culturally derived and place-based institutions. Redistribution of resources through these networks, and the maintenance of social relationships to activate networks in times of need, increase the equality of outcomes —and therefore social resilience—at the community level in the face of rapid change.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article number31
JournalEcology and Society
Issue number3
StatePublished - Sep 1 2022
Externally publishedYes


  • Alaska Native
  • cooperation
  • equality
  • equity
  • resilience
  • sharing
  • social networks
  • social resilience
  • subsistence
  • well-being

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Ecology


Dive into the research topics of 'Equality and equity in Arctic communities: how household-level social relations support community-level social resilience'. Together they form a unique fingerprint.

Cite this