Imagine ten football fields, placed end-to-end, without the end zones. 3,000 feet - 1,000 yards. Each foot equals a year in history. Each five-yard marker equals 15 years. These ten football fields equal the length of Yupik Civilization's mark upon the Yukon River.
Somewhat more than 3,000 years ago, Yupik-related peoples started moving into the lower deltas of the Yukon and Kuskokwim rivers, coming into the areas mostly from the North-northeast. As global warming expanded the Bering Sea through a rise in sea levels, the warmth created glacial melt-off, swelling the river. As glaciers retreated upriver, lakes were exposed and new streams led from them to the Yukon and Kuskokwim rivers.
Salmon, already present in the larger streams, moved into the new streams and lakes. Over the centuries, huge salmon runs supported larger and larger human populations.
This magnificent process, accompanied by expansion of Yupik civilization throughout the deltas, and then upriver, lasted through the lengths of nine of the ten football fields.
The Russians entered the area from the west-southwest near the beginning of the tenth football field. The British fur traders entered from the upper Yukon at about 30 yards into the field. The Americans took over the field around the 50-yard line.
Lets consider Yupik civilization as defenders of this last of the ten football fields. They had been fighting smallpox, brought by Russians, Hudson Bay Company traders, whalers and gold prospectors since the opposing team's 20-yard line. At the Yupiks' 33-yard line, they were again decimated, this time by the 1918-21 Influenza epidemic.
All through their battle to keep their civilization while playing on the last of the ten football fields, the Yupik were told by various opponents that unlike their opponents' teams, the Yupik weren't really a team. The other teams' chaplains and coaches tried to convince the Yupiks to stop huddling, throw out their playbooks, yells, team songs and rituals, and to burn their uniforms.
Even as the Yupik team was forced back, yard by yard toward the final end zone of the last of the ten football fields, against the new teams, they fought and struggled to keep their playbooks, yells, songs, rituals, uniforms and pride.
Then, at their own 20-yard line, something new began to happen. The salmon started showing up in the Yukon and Kuskokwim in reduced numbers.
At first it was easy to blame the reduced fish numbers on experiences in seasonal variance the Yupik had either seen or had told each other about in their civilization's histories, shared over lifetimes, generations and millenia.
As the salmon returns dwindled year after year, though, the Yupik themselves made allowances on behalf of the salmon. Soon they were forced by the opposing teams' referees, to accept smaller catches. They did. The fish continued to dwindle year by year.
It was obvious that somebody was taking more than their fair share.
They approached a man representing them and many opposing teams. He had always said he would help the Yupik. The Yupik weren't the only Alaskans to call this great man "Uncle."
Uncle told them he would help bring the salmon back. He hired scientists all over Alaska to study their problems and other fishing problems. He created a great council of men from the other teams. The great Uncle showed the Yupik how much he believed this council would solve the Yupiks' problems by making sure his own son had a major role in the council's decisions.
As the Yupik team was down to about their own seven-yard line, the rivers' salmon runs began to decline past the point of sustainability.
Uncle told them that he cared so much that he had created a new fish study palace with his very own name upon it, thus guaranteeing the integrity of the work done in that fish study palace. Uncle promised the Yupik that the scientists there would study and study and study and study.
In the meantime one of the teams, called the Pirates, was forced by Uncle and the council he had created to give the Yupik paper and coins. They were called "CDQ's."
Uncle said "These are good!"
The Yupik weren't so sure. They knew how this paper and coin and promise thing had worked out with White pirates over the course of the past two football fields worth of human civilization.
At about the four-yard line, the referees took the ball and the salmon away from the Yupik. At least the team still has their huddles, playbooks, yells, team songs, rituals uniforms and will to win.
Can you help us tell the end of this tale of a civilization's successful fight against enormous odds?
Update: Juneau resident and fisheries businessman John Moller has been named Gov. Palin's Rural Coordinator. He is from Unalaska, and is a member of the North Pacific Fisheries Management Council's Advisory Panel.