Legislature deaf to subsistence needs

As much as I have tried to avoid this whole issue, I guess I have no choice but to finally weigh in with my three cents on subsistence. I get three cents instead of two because some people have just so annoyed me recently with their statements and activities on subsistence that I feel they owe me an extra penny’s worth.

Let’s start with Governor Knowles. Generally I like the guy.  But if he calls for one more commission to meet on one more topic to reach one more consensus, I’m gong to wish the sixties had never happened so the idea of communal consensus outside of formally elected legislative bodies had never been resurrected. 

In case he doesn’t get it yet, the legislature as currently constituted is not going to let a subsistence amendment on the ballot. Poll after poll of the Alaskan people has shown that they are for that very idea. Some of our legislators don’t care about that. You can say they are obstructionists holding back the will of the people or you can say they are people of principle refusing to give in to the roar of the crowd. 

Either way, Governor, please don’t call for anymore commissions to reach a consensus that is already there. For instance, I’m pretty sure your commission on racism in Alaska is going to announce that it’s a bad thing.

Now on to the next person who annoyed me. That would be Dick Bishop when he said that if people couldn’t survive in their village because of scarce subsistence resources, they should just move.  It’s nice to know that Western cultural chauvinists are merely endangered but not extinct, isn’t it?

I remember testifying in Barrow about 25 years ago when the Feds were planning to limit caribou to two per family for some reason. They were going to supplement the family’s winter meat supply with a couple of pot roasts. 

Without getting in to the bureaucratic intelligence that was obviously at work in this scheme (it occurs to me these could be the same people who came up with the death benefits of smoking for the tobacco companies), the plan obviously caused some discussion and a slew of hearings on the North Slope.  My testimony went something like this.

If you think you can so easily substitute a roast beef for caribou, seal, whale and walrus, then I suggest we drop you off in Kaktovik for the winter and let you subsist on those foods. Then we’ll bring you back to the city and see what kind of cultural affinity you’ve discovered for a Big Mac.

The bottom line is that subsistence is about the way you live, the foods you eat and the land and sea that supplies them. You can’t simply move to Anchorage and start shopping at Fred Myers and figure you’ll never notice the difference. 

Subsistence is not just about physical sustenance. It’s about a person’s heart and soul, their mental and emotional connections to their world.  Or, to put it as succinctly as possible, “It’s not just about the caribou, stupid.”

Finally , a little finger wagging at our dear Uncle Ted, a man I normally respect even though we don’t always agree.  I understand his passion in trying to open ANWR’s coastal plains.  May he live to fight passionately for this state forever.

However, I spent a good part of the past 30 years on the North Slope repeating, as if it were a mantra, “We are not barren, we are not windswept”.  And what does good old Uncle Ted say in defense of opening the plains up to oil exploration? He calls them barren and windswept.

Uncle Ted, you’ve been a good senator for this state for too long to lower yourself to that level. ANWR may not be Yellowstone but it is beautiful. And it is not barren. It supports huge populations of everything from wild birds to caribou to ground squirrels. It is a land that is alive in ways that aren’t so obvious. It is the difference between a Rubens’ woman and Degas’ ballerinas.  Both have their own beauty.

Well, I feel better for getting that all off my shoulders. Now it’s on to yet another kind of beauty. Get those nickel slot machines ready. Vegas here I come.