Mike O'Rourke, PhD

Postdoctoral Fellow
Prince of Wales Northern Heritage Centre

Research statement

I am an anthropological archaeologist with experience drawn from a professional career in applied anthropology, as well as academic training within a four-field anthropology department. My experience as both a Traditional Knowledge Facilitator and Geographic Information System (GIS) Analyst in the private sector has yielded a pragmatic understanding of community-based approaches to heritage management. My participation in archaeological field programmes throughout the North American Arctic have provided valuable experience with the logistical complexities, unique culture histories and well preserved cultural materials of the Arctic region. I have a great deal of experience with community-based project management, including the coordination of logistically complicated field programmes and ethnocartographic interview sessions.

My research is focused on the vulnerability of cultural landscapes in the Inuvialuit Settlement Region; landscapes which are threatened by the cumulative effects of climate change. Shifts in prevailing weather patterns are taking place at unprecedented rates throughout Inuit Nunangat, and Inuvialuit cultural landscapes will continue to submerge, erode and literally melt away in the years ahead. Through partnerships with the Prince of Wales Northern Heritage Centre (PWNHC) and the Inuvialuit Regional Corporation (IRC), I am exploring the development of socially relevant and culturally appropriate methods of Inuvialuit cultural landscape stewardship.

Description of Research Program in the NWT

My research on cultural landscape stewardship currently involves four primary aspects:

  1. I have begun coordinating the ‘Inuvialuit Place Names Project’ in cooperation with the IRC, in order to establish a comprehensive source of all known Inuvialuit place names. The results will include a community-controlled spatial dataset and online map resource capable of informing a range of research and regulatory initiatives directed by the IRC and its partner agencies.
  2. In cooperation with the PWNHC, I have continued to build on my doctoral research results through the ‘desktop-based’ process of monitoring and mapping culturally significant locations. This process involves using satellite and drone imagery to assess the severity of changes brought about by various coastal processes (erosion, thaw slump propagation, dune field expansion, etc) near Inuvialuit ancestral sites and other culturally important locations.
  3. I have begun a programme of ‘map-interviews’ with members of the Tuktoyaktuk community, in order to verify the preliminary results of the Inuvialuit Place Names Project, document public perspectives on what a culturally appropriate and socially relevant heritage management practice might consist of, and to highlight still further areas of cultural significance in and around the community.
  4. Low-impact archaeological fieldwork is also undertaken at Inuvialuit cultural landscapes which have been identified as both highly valued and at risk of climate-related alteration.  Doing so allows me to  ‘ground-truth’ observed impacts identified in the desktop-based monitoring process, while providing an opportunity to develop high-resolution maps of various natural and cultural features which comprise these important landscapes, promoting a better informed monitoring and management process.

Significant Contributions

Friesen, TM and O’Rourke MJE. 2019. Biogeographic Barriers and Coastal Erosion: Understanding the Lack of Interaction Between the Eastern and Western Regions of the North American Arctic. World Archaeology (Submitted).

O’Rourke, MJE. 2018. Risk and Value: Grounded Visualization Methods and the Assessment of Cultural Landscape Vulnerability in the Canadian Arctic. World Archaeology 50(4):620-638. DOI: 10.1080/00438243.2018.1459205.

O’Rourke, MJE. 2018. The Map is Not the Territory: Applying Qualitative GIS in the Practice of Activist Archaeology. Journal of Social Archaeology 18(2):149-173. DOI: 10.1177/1469605318758406.

O’Rourke, MJE. 2017. Archaeological Site Vulnerability Modeling: The Influence of High Impact Storm Events on Models of Shoreline Erosion in the Western Canadian Arctic. Open Archaeology 3(1):17-48. DOI: 10.1515/opar-2017-0001.

Norman, LEY; Friesen, TM; Alix, C; O’Rourke, MJE; and Mason, OK. An early Iñupiaq occupation: Observations on a Thule house from Cape Espenberg, Alaska. Open Archaeology 3(1):1-16. DOI: 10.1515/opar-2017-0002.

O’Rourke, MJE. Value and Fluidity in Collaborative Heritage Research Planning: Perspectives from the Memory, Meaning-Making and Collections Project. Collaborative Anthropologies 8(1-2):58-82. DOI: 10.1353/cla.2016.0004.