Mike O'Rourke, PhD

Climate Change Archaeologist
Government of the Northwest Territories

Education:                          PhD (Anthropology)

Home organization:         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 in Alaska and throughout Inuit Nunangat have provided valuable experience with the logistical complexities, rich culture histories and well preserved cultural materials of the North American Arctic. I have a great deal of experience with community-based project management, including the coordination of remote field programmes and ethnocartographic interview sessions.

My research is focused on the vulnerability of Inuvialuit cultural landscapes, which are threatened by the cumulative effects of anthropogenic climate change. Shifts in prevailing weather patterns are taking place at unprecedented rates throughout the circumpolar Arctic, and Inuvialuit cultural landscapes will continue to submerge, erode and literally melt away in the years ahead. As the new GNWT Climate Change Archaeologist, I have begun working with the Inuvialuit Regional Corporation to develop a community-based approach to climate change impact monitoring for ancestral sites and cultural landscapes at risk. Doing so will promote more socially relevant and culturally appropriate methods of heritage management, which will guide Territorial efforts at monitoring and mitigating against climate change impacts to culturally significant locations throughout the Inuvialuit Settlement Region.

Description of Research Program: 

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 for ‘ground-truthing’ of 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, which can inform stewardship decision making processes.

Virtual Speaker Series Talk


Scientific Contributions:

1. 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 51(3):484-501. DOI: 10.1080/00438243.2019.1705179

2. 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.

3. 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.

4. 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.

5. 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.

6. 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.