Thursday, March 5, 2009

Wednesday's UAA Subsistence Community Forum

The University of Alaska Anchorage is finishing up a week of events centered around "sustainability." Wednesday evening, three Alaska Native leaders discussed subsistence at the UAA/APU Consortium Library. They then answered a variety of questions from the audience of about sixty people.

Listening to the three reinforced an impression that I've gained from volunteering for and working with Diane Benson since 2006: Alaska would be well-served if we made far better use of our talented Alaska Native leaders. Each, addressed different aspects of the importance of subsistence lifestyles to their cultural heritage. And each, in his or her own way, spoke of the inherent spiritual values they, their families and their communities have gained from the subsistence aspects of their heritage.

Tim Andrew, Natural Resources Director for the Association of Village Council Presidents, spoke of the importance of sustainable fisheries along the lengths of the Yukon and Kuskokwim Rivers. Andrew is a commercial fisher on the lower Yukon. Last week he wrote a letter on behalf of the Council, urging help at the upcoming Anchorage meeting of the North Pacific Fisheries Management Council, that will be addressing Bering Sea by-catch and Yukon and Kuskokwim River-bound salmon.

Anna Phillips Davidson, from the Alaska Conservation Foundation, sounded almost Buddhist in her descriptions of how subsistence and the humility of gathering and enjoying can help one to see the good in others. At least that is what I got out of her very positive takes on the relationship between subsistence and understanding continuity.

Larry Merculieff, Director of Seven Generations Consulting and Deputy Director of the Alaska Native Science Commission, is one of Alaska's most profound thinkers. He's also one of Alaska's best storytellers. That's saying something. Merculieff's talk was laced with gems of wisdom, many displayed in delightful parables, gathered from the rich experiences of his life.

Several from the audience were Alaska Natives. Some gave testimonial to how they've realized the deep importance of their cultural heritage, how much they miss it in the city, and how much non-Native impacts on their communities have taken from those who live there.

As I listened to the speakers, the interesting questions or testimonials, I kept on hearing Emmonak elder Nick Tucker's statement from February 20th coming back into my mind:

We want to get restored back to who we are.

After the talk and QA session - which could have gone on until 10:00 - I met a few people in the audience, exchanging cards. I'm hoping to help Tim Andrew get the word out on the upcoming North Pacific Fisheries Management Council by-catch quota meetings, too.

image - Tim Andrew, Ann Phillips Davidson, Larry Merculieff

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