25 FEB 1978: North Slope Borough, Barrow, AK
Mayor Eben Hopson’s Address to the People
of the AVCP Region on Subsistence Management
and the Role of the Village
Thank you for inviting me here tonight to talk about subsistence. This gathering provides me an opportunity to review the politics of subsistence hunting in Alaska since the Alaska Native Claims Settlement Act was passed. In the years since then, there have been many distractions caused by the need to implement the settlement legislation, but the people of the Lower Yukon and Kuskokwim have distinguished themselves by keeping their eye on the ball so far as the eternal values of our land are concerned, and you have earned a reputation for effective political action in defense of subsistence resources, and our Native subsistence hunting and fishing rights. So it is that we find ourselves here this evening, and I would like to suggest that this may be due to the fact that in this region, because of the strength of the Association of Village Council Presidents, there has always been a great deal of village involvement in our land claims movement. This involvement has caused you to keep your attention fastened upon the most important issues of subsistence while others have been distracted by business and the development of non-renewable resources on our land following the enactment of our land claims settlement. Now, the rest of rural Alaska has joined you in attending to the defense of our Native hunting and fishing rights, and the defense of subsistence game habitat.
Today it is fashionable to complain that Native entitlement is being rejected by our nation; that the United States is edging toward termination of her legal trust responsibilities to Native Americans; that national policy is to speed up assimilation of Native Americans into the mainstream of American culture through coercion, and other means. Those who hold this view point to the Indian land claims in New England and elsewhere as having caused strong political reaction throughout our country against native entitlement. Indeed, Indian land specialists have branded our Alaska Native Claims Settlement Act as terminationist legislation. Our people in Canada are involved in their own land claims settlement negotiations with their Canadian government, and they say that they reject Alaska’s Native claims settlement because of Section 4b of the Act which purports to extinguish any remaining aboriginal hunting and fishing rights in Alaska. The Canadians say that our land claims settlement was designed to destroy Alaska’s Native people, and Canadian land claims settlement proposals focus upon the preservation of Native subsistence rights rather than upon land title exchange, and money. As you may recall, my own region voted to withhold our approval of the Alaska native Claims Settlement Act, mostly because of Section 4b, for we do not believe that Congress can constitutionally extinguish Native subsistence hunting and fishing rights.
Many feel that things have gotten worse since the land claims were settled, but it is my hope that I can convince you that the political strength of native subsistence rights has improved over the eight years since our claims were settled. This may seem strange coming from one who has been engaged in a struggle to defend our bowhead subsistence whaling, but a close look at the plot to ban bowhead whaling reveals that its roots go back to the same year that our Native claims were settled, and expresses the same terminationist politics that characterized the Nixon administration in 1970, and the Eisenhower administration in the 1950s. This plot was conducted in secret like much of the work of the Nixon administration, and it wasn’t until it was revealed by the International Whaling Commission in Australia last year that we found that the plot was being maintained by only a few middle level bureaucrats left over from the Nixon administration, and it didn’t really reflect the attitudes or policy of our government today. Rather, the Carter administration was embarrassed by the forward momentum of this plot to ban our whaling, and while it failed to object to the IWC bowhead subsistence whaling moratorium, it moved swiftly to stop the Department of Commerce from its illegal efforts to ban our whaling.
The battle for our bowhead whaling has given us a close look at the Department of Interior that will administer whatever D-2 legislation under consideration today would have contained language implementing Section 4b, formally extinguishing Native subsistence rights that are guaranteed in other Federal legislation, such as the Marine Mammal Protection Act, that formally protects Native subsistence rights. But there is no such language. Section 4b has bee forgotten as a defective attempt to extinguish our rights, something that may have been the goal of less enlightened governments, but which is rejected by government today. Section 4b was the last gasp of the 1950s when Native rights extinguishment was being pushed by the Eisenhower administration as a final solution to the “Indian problem.” We have had something of a national political revolution since then, one which I feel has left our native subsistence rights in Alaska with greater strength than we had in the 1960s. Today, our subsistence rights are viewed as importance constitutional rights in the United States, and as essential human rights by people all over the world who are closer to us now because of modern communications technology, and they look to the United States to establish high standards of justice for Native indigenous people all over the world. There may have been a time when our hunting and fishing rights could have been extinguished quietly without international protest and disgrace, but not today.
This was made clear to us when we fought to defend our bowhead subsistence whaling rights. With the encouragement of the Federal government, we organized the Alaska Eskimo Whaling Commission to conserve bowhead stocks, and control and regulate all aspects of the bowhead harvest. The AEWC has agreed to enforce the IWC bowhead quota this year only in order to save the United States embarrassment in our international commercial whaling politics, but there will be no quota next year unless the Alaska Eskimo Whaling Commission determines the need for a quota after analyzing the results of bowhead stocks research planned and conducted this year under AEWC supervision. The AEWC has recently published its own regulations, and will be in charge of enforcing these regulations. Thus, we have established the first cooperative management regime for a single endangered migratory subsistence species, a regime entirely under Native control of subsistence hunters, but cooperating with State and Federal agencies. It is my hope that we can build upon the work and experience of the Alaska Eskimo Whaling Commission to bring all subsistence species under the management of subsistence hunters and fishermen. This is particularly important for the management of caribou, walrus, seals, and the beluga, but it also provides a model that might be used to manage salmon as a subsistence resource, also. Salmon is complicated by the fact that it is being commercially harvested, and some management method must be developed that will assess subsistence needs for salmon species before commercial salmon fishing quotas are set.
We are in phase II of our land claims movement. We had to organize to settle our land claims in the 1960s, and we were not able to organize to the local village level to adequately involve our village communities in these land claims negotiations. As s result, many young people today wonder at what we were thinking about when those of us who were active in these negotiations produced the Alaska Native Claims Settlement Act. I can understand their feelings, but now they must join with the rest of us to organize to manage our subsistence resources. We no longer are dealing with hostile State and Federal governments trying to steal our land without our knowing about it. We have time now to fully involve our village communities in phase II of our land claims movement, and this involvement is absolutely essential to our successful management of our subsistence resources. Our villages contain the knowledge of our land and game that we can find nowhere else.
Thus, it was the whaling villages of Gambell, Savoonga, Wales, Kivalina, Point Hope, Wainwright, Barrow, Nuiqsut, and Kaktovik, spanning three regions, who joined with the North Slope Borough to organize the Alaska Eskimo Whaling Commission. The AEWC is a village-based subsistence resource management regime, as all of our subsistence resource management systems must be village-based.
Based upon our experience in our battle for our bowhead whaling, I feel that the Government will cooperate with phase II of our land claims movement, and so will the conservationists who are a politically powerful force in both Juneau and Washington, D.C. The bowhead whale controversy has convinced the most powerful and responsible national conservation groups that our subsistence hunting is part of the necessary ecological balance of rural Alaska. We Native hunters are now being regarded as a necessary part of subsistence game management. We Eskimo are seen as the index species to be used to evaluate the success of all subsistence resource management schemes. And although there are still serious problems, we can see this cooperative spirit in the State’s new regulations for which hearings will begin here next week, and in the new D-2 subsistence legislation under consideration in Washington, D.C. The emphasis is being placed upon “cooperation,” and the Government more and more is turning to us to determine the terms of this cooperation so that Alaska’s fish and game management can be anchored by the strength of our subsistence rights, and our subsistence hunting and fishing traditions, and our village social organization.
No longer can we stand aside and complain, and advise the government. No more can we enjoy the luxury of serving on advisory committees while lettering others make the hard decisions. We are being turned to to make these hard decisions for ourselves, as well as for our State and Nation. Our management of Alaska’s subsistence resources must be undertaken in the cold context of world hunger. We will be managing food as food becomes scarce all over the world. As the world becomes more crowded and hungry, our management of our game, our stewardship over our land will come under increasingly critical attention. Today, we enjoy the strength of world opinion in support of our rights to manage our fish and game, and regulate our own harvest. Our biggest political danger in the future will be scandal among hungry people elsewhere over waste or rumors of waste of our fish and game. We are not wasteful people, and the barracks stories about our wasteful hunting spread by professional game managers are generally not true. But we must strive at the village level to make all hunters and fishermen aware that they must avoid even the appearance of waste. I recommend to you the resolution passed last June in Barrow by the Inuit Circumpolar Conference urging the wise and full use of subsistence resources:
WHEREAS subsistence hunting is the foundation of Inuit survival in the Arctic, and constitutes an important aboriginal right of the Inuit; and
WHEREAS game stocks upon which the Inuit depend for their physical and cultural survival are limited, and are under heavy pressure wherever Arctic natural resources are being developed; and
WHEREAS these pressures will result in attempts to limit or eliminate subsistence hunting in the Arctic unless special care is taken; and
WHEREAS it is traditional behavior for game biologists and others to justify hunting limitations by pointing to wasteful hunting practices through the use of modern hunting equipment and transportation; and
WHEREAS stories of waste of game and other poor hunting practices make the political defense of subsistence hunting more difficult by reducing public confidence in the ability of the Inuit to manage fish and game; now
THEREFORE, BE IT RESOLVED that the delegates assembled at the first Inuit Circumpolar Conference call upon all Inuit to behave as hunters and in no way that will create scandal and endanger our subsistence hunting rights, and to conserve our game as we would conserve our homeland, and protect the future generations of our people.
When we organized the Inuit Circumpolar Conference, we announced to the world that we are willing and able to take our case for justice and environmental responsibility to the entire world, for we can no longer depend only upon national policies to honor our rights and responsibilities. So it was that we were able to organize the strong support of Greenland to change Danish policy that was largely responsible for the IWC subsistence bowhead moratorium. Now, we all must come to the aid of our people in Greenland where the European Council, acting must like the International Whaling Commission, has called upon all European Common Market nations to enforce a ban on all subsistence sealing in Greenland. Just as an international forum was used to attack our whaling, so was another such forum used to attack our sealing in Greenland. 20,000 Eskimo people in Greenland depend upon the Greenland seal just as 15,000 Yupik depend upon both the seal and the salmon in the Bethel region. As Mayor of the North Slope Borough and Chairman of the Inuit Circumpolar Conference, I have invited the leadership of the Government of Greenland to Alaska this coming May to discuss how we can prevent these foreign attacks upon North American Arctic Native subsistence hunting rights. The leader of the Government of Greenland is Lars Chemnitz, and both he and I will be visiting Bethel in mid-May as part of a swing around the State so that he can see for himself the common bonds between Bethel and Greenland, both populated by People of the Seal.
Phase II of our land claims movement will be village-centered, and it will be the strongest and most effective part of our land claims movement. Working together, we will exercise an effective stewardship over our land, and we will prevail. This is my hope and conviction, and I appreciate the opportunity to express it to you here tonight. Thank you very much. May God bless us all.