Chie Sakakibara

  • Associate Professor of Environmental Studies

Areas of Study


  • BA in native American studies, University of Oklahoma
  • BA in British American studies, Aichi Prefectural University, Japan
  • MA in art history, University of Oklahoma
  • PhD in geography, University of Oklahoma


Chie Sakakibara is a cultural geographer, and her teaching and research interests lie in the field of the human dimensions of global environmental change among indigenous peoples, specifically on their cultural resilience and socio-environmental justice. 

Her current research focuses on climate change and its influence on traditional relationships with the bowhead whale in the Alaskan Arctic, particularly among the indigenous Iñupiaq people who call themselves the “People of the Whales.”

In addition to her own research, she collaborates with the Center for Ethnomusicology at Columbia University for their community-partnered Iñupiaq music heritage repatriation project. Sakakibara also explores climate change and cultural resilience among the islanders of the Azores, Autonomous Region of Portugal in the northern Atlantic.


Chie Sakakibara publishes book on Iñupiaq community and climate change

September 18, 2020

Chie Sakakibara, assistant professor of environmental studies and East Asian studies, has published the book Whale Snow: Iñupiat, Climate Change, and Multispecies Resilience in Arctic Alaska (First Peoples: New Directions in Indigenous Studies) from the University of Arizona Press.

Whale Snow explores how Arctic climate change influences Indigenous society, and reflects upon Sakakibara’s ongoing collaborative endeavor with the Iñupiaq community of northern Alaska for nearly two decades. Sakakibara’s research and writing have been inspired and enabled by her collaboration and conversations with many Indigenous community partners, colleagues and students at Oberlin College & Conservatory as well as the support from the National Science Foundation (NSF) Arctic Social Sciences Program, the Barrow Arctic Science Consortium, the Earth Institute and the Center for Ethnomusicology at Columbia University, in addition to Oberlin College Dean’s Office, Grants Office, Bonner Center, and Environmental Studies.    

As a mythical creature, the whale has been responsible for many transformations in the world. It is an enchanting being that humans have long felt a connection to. In the contemporary environmental imagination, whales are charismatic megafauna feeding our environmentalism and aspirations for a better and more sustainable future.

Using multispecies ethnography, Whale Snow explores how everyday the relatedness of the Iñupiat of Arctic Alaska and the bowhead whale forms and transforms “the human” through their encounters with modernity. Whale Snow shows how the people live in the world that intersects with other beings, how these connections came into being, and, most importantly, how such intimate and intense relations help humans survive the social challenges incurred by climate change. In this time of ecological transition, exploring multispecies relatedness is crucial as it keeps social capacities to adapt relational, elastic, and resilient.

In the Arctic, climate, culture, and human resilience are connected through bowhead whaling. In Whale Snow we see how climate change disrupts this ancient practice and, in the process, affects a vital expression of Indigenous sovereignty. Ultimately, though, this book offers a story of hope grounded in multispecies resilience.

All royalties from the sale of this book will go directly to the North Slope Borough Iñupiat History, Language and Culture Commission.

Chie Sakakibara Published in Journal

January 29, 2020

Assistant Professor of Environmental Studies Chie Sakakibara discusses indigenous efforts and epistemologies to cope with stresses and plights induced by global climate change in an article published in the journal Environmental Philosophy. Informed by a variety of humanistic perspectives from marginalized communities, the authors examine how indigenous peoples, especially those of North America and northern Pacific Rim, process climate change through their cultural values and social priorities to cultivate resilience. Article coauthors Elise Horensky ’17 and Sloane Garelick ’17 were enrolled in Sakakibara's course Indigenous Peoples and Climate Change (ENVS315), which served as the foundation of this work.

Chie Sakakibara Receives Ainu Foundation Research Grant

June 25, 2018

Chie Sakakibara, assistant professor of environmental studies & East Asian studies, received a $10,000 research grant from the Foundation for Research & Promotion of Ainu Culture for her project titled "Community-Partnered Exploration of Ainu Environmental Justice and Heritage Resources.” Sakakibara will initiate an interdisciplinary ethnographic project on environmental justice and heritage in the indigenous Ainu community in Biratori, Hokkaido, Japan. Biratori is a community that has been known for its environmental activism since the 1970s. Oberlin’s Allen Memorial Art Museum received a gift of photographs taken by the German-American photographer Arnold Genthe (1869-1942; gift of Christopher Thomas ’75). Twenty-five photos in the collection were taken in 1908 in Biratori, and they are identified as the second-oldest set of photos that documented the people and environment of the settlement. This grant will allow Sakakibara to recover detailed contextual information about the photographs; develop community-wide consensus on the proper and future access and uses of these materials; support and enable contemporary and innovative uses of these materials by Ainu artists, educators, environmentalists, and the community.

Janet Fiskio and Chie Sakakibara Awarded Grant

September 30, 2017

Janet Fiskio and Chie Sakakibara were awarded a $40,000 National Science Foundation conference award for “Oral History and Local Knowledge: Methods of Resilience” in the Arctic Social Sciences Program. The grant supported a community history workshop in Africatown, Alabama at the historic Union Missionary Baptist Church. Approximately 40 community members, Inupiat elders, and Oberlin faculty and students participated in the workshop held during fall 2017.

Chie Sakakibara Awarded Best Paper

September 18, 2017

Chie Sakakibara, assistant professor of environmental studies, received an award for “Best Paper” with her piece "No Whale, No Music: Climate Change and Cultural Resilience Among the Iñupiat of Arctic Alaska." The paper took top honors in Category 1: Oral Traditions and Expressions and was presented on September 6-8, 2017 at Sharing Cultures 20175th International Conference on Intangible Heritage in Barcelos, Portugal.

Chie Sakakibara Serves as Panelist

April 19, 2016

Chie Sakakibara, assistant professor of environmental studies, served as a moderator at the Global Issues Symposium for the panel “Resilience at the Local Level: Environmental Attitude and Knowledge in Indigenous Communities” on April 8, 2016. The panelists included Caroline Cannon (Iñupiaq environmental activist from Point Hope, Alaska, Goldman Prize recipient of 2012), Amy Margaris (associate professor of anthropology), Frank Kelderman (visiting assistant professor of comparative American studies), and Matt Bahar (assistant professor of history).

Sakakibara also served as an invited panelist for the symposium Ice Cubed: An Inquiry into the Aesthetics, History, and Science of Ice at Columbia University, where she discussed the influence of climate change on indigenous peoples in the Arctic.

Chie Sakakibara Conducts Fieldwork

November 30, 2015

Assistant Professor of Environmental Studies Chie Sakakibara visited the Inupiaq community of Barrow, Alaska, November 22-28 for two current projects: 1) climate change and indigenous cultural resilience; and 2) the community-partnered Inupiaq music repatriation project for which she collaborates with the Center for Ethnomusicology at Columbia University, New York.


This Week in Photos: December 10

December 18, 2019

The holiday season comes to life in this photo series with end-of-semester celebrations, open houses, and musical traditions. Research presentations and partnerships round out the week.