Alaska Native People and Subsistence

Testimony from village Alaska over 20 years ago:

“The wildlife regulations interfere with daily life, especially in the villages. Wildlife enforcement efforts target the wrong people for punishment and end up causing more problems than they solve. Wildlife agency personnel are, generally, unprepared and untrained for the human setting in northwest Alaska, so these human problems are not identified and not addressed. Much of what hunters do in the field is technically illegal, even though those same hunting practices are perfectably acceptable from the standpoint of conservation.” Greg Moore, Kotzebue

“When we talk about subsistence in the areas, we should be talking about Native culture and their land. I never heard the word subsistence until 1971 under the Native claims act. Before that time, when I was brought up in the culture of my people, it’s always been ‘our culture’ and ‘our land’. You cannot break out subsistence or the meaning of subsistence or try to identify it, and you can’t break it out of the culture. The culture and the life of my Native people are the subsistence way of life. And that’s what we always used, the subsistence way of life. It goes hand in hand with our own culture, our own language, and all our activities.” Johnathon Solomon, Fort Yukon

“I don’t know how anybody…who can place the value on my Nativeness, who can place the value on my thinking, my spirtuality, I don’t think anybody can. Only myself, and I think each and every one of us need to remember that we are Native and that we need to value that and protect it…through protection of our lands and our life-style.” Eleanor McMullen, Port Graham

“Native people are different…Our thinking is totally different. People that are non-Native don’t quite understand our way of thinking and somehow, if we could close those gaps so they can better understand them, I think many good things can happen.” Eleanor McMullen, Port Graham

“The land means everything to us, it brings us food, it provides for our clothing, it provides for our lodging, it brings us water; it means everything to us.” Suzy Erlich, Kotzebue

“One of the most important things to most people is our land. It goes back to our history and culture. That is important. As to the rest of it, who cares?” Kurt Englestad, Seattle

“In order to keep holding on to your customs and cultures, you have got to have land to get by with. If you are out of land, you are nothing. We have to belong to the land and take care of our land.” Art Douglas, Ambler

“I am speaking because I am affected, and where I am affected is from the village. I remember our fathers, our forefathers, how they survived this world, in strong winds, in cold temperatures. Many of them died during the season but they survived through thousands of years because they knew how to survive. They were taught to share, they were taught to help each others for thousands of years. Today, we are in this same situation, but this time we are not surviving against nature…surviving from the land. This time, we are in a time where we are searching, we are fighting to survive among different people, among different races in this Western civilization. What does this Western civilization have to offer? Business.” Bobby Wells, Kotzebue

“When you look through the corporate eye, our relationship to the land is altered. We draw our identity as a people from our relationship to the land and to the sea and to the resources. This is a spiritual relationship, a sacred relationship. It is in danger because, from a corporate standpoint, if we are to pursue profit and growth, and this is why profit organizations exist, we would have to assume a position of control over the land and the resources and exploit these resources to achieve economic gain. This is in conflict with our traditional relationship to the land, we were stewards, we were caretakers and where we had respect for the resources that sustained us.” Mary Miller, Nome

“The great law of culture is to let one become what they were created to be. Let me be Inupiat with the freedom to hunt, to fish, to trap, and to whale as my forefathers did in past centuries.” Delbert Rexford, Barrow

“I believe that if people, if the vast majority of Alaska Natives, were given the opportunity to either kill or die for their land, that most of them would do just that if it was that simple. If you were supposed to shoot soldiers, or protect your land with firearms, there are more Natives than the federal government would like to think about that would be more than willing to do just that. The government does not operate in that clear manner anymore. Now, when they are coming in after the land and they are coming in on these issues, they come not with soldiers but with people carrying briefcases. If you shoot somebody carrying a briefcase, then you are just a criminal, not an act of war. That means that there isn’t any clear way for the people to protect their land.” Paul Ongtooguk, Kotzebue

Village Journey: The Report of the Alaska Native Review Commission, Thomas R. Berger. 1985. As funded in part by the Inuit Circumpolar Conference and the World Council of Indigenous Peoples.


1 Comment

Filed under Author: alaskaindigenous

One response to “Alaska Native People and Subsistence

  1. Danette Myers

    Alaska is a great state. The Natives are very welcoming, warm hearted, and lovely. They make sure you eat after a long trip, even if you’re guests. They make sure you sleep and are warm and comfortable all the time. Thanks to the ancestors and the Elders of the Alaska Natives.

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