Arctic Voices

Arctic Gardens Ebook - Forward

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I tried to explain – how successful I was, I do not know – that in the Arctic and sub- Arctic regions of North America, subsistence hunting and fishing is actually a part of the modern world. Here the traditional economy of the Native people has not been extin- guished. They still occupy the land and use it as before. In many places in North America the subsistence economy is still important to Native people, but this is especially so for the Native people of the Arctic and sub-Arctic in Canada and the United States. As for “bring[ing] Native people into the modern world,” the Gwich’in are in the thick of it. For two decades the Gwich’in from villages on both sides of the border have travelled to Washington, D.C., in their campaign to achieve Wilderness status for the Arctic Refuge coastal plain in Alaska. Getting up petitions, buttonholing members of the House and Sen- ate, never giving up. All of this is part of the modern world: using the newspapers, televi- sion, and the internet, and the Gwich’in have mastered it. And so far they have been able to prevent drilling in the calving grounds.

As Ayers, Pennington and Harman have told us, Arctic Gardens “puts a human face on energy’s front line.”

It is not only the Gwich’in who regard subsistence as their birthright. This is true too of the Inupiat and the Inuvialuit.

Wherever I went in the Mackenzie Valley in the 1970’s and wherever I went in Alaska in the 1980’s, I saw the equipment used for subsistence – snowmobiles, skiffs, nets, sleds, snowshoes, oil drums – and the products of subsistence – racks of drying fish, skins being scraped, smokehouses full of meat. Everywhere the cry was for the defense of subsistence.

The scope and intensity of subsistence hunting and fishing activity in the Arctic and sub-Arctic always comes as a surprise. In both Canada and Alaska its prevalence has been demonstrated time and again. It is their sole occupation for some. But for virtually all it is important to their well being and their way of life. Yet there remains a seed of skepti- cism which sprouts again and again each time we learn of another survey, anywhere from Alaska to Nunavut, which reveals that harvests have not diminished but have even in some instances actually increased. We are surprised once more – yet why should we be? Only because there is no place in our idea of progress for the concept of a viable hunting and fishing economy.

In 1975, Gabe Bluecoat of Arctic Red River (now Tsiigehtchic), speaking to the Mackenzie Valley Pipeline Inquiry, said:

"The land, who made it? I really want to find out who made it. Me? You? The Government? Who made it? I know [of] only one man who made it – God. But on this who besides Him made the land? What is given is not sold to anyone. We’re that kind of people. What is given to use, we are not going to give away. Richard Nerysoo of Fort McPherson, a young man in his early 20’s, speaking in 1975: It is very clear to me that it is an important and special thing to be an Indian. Being an Indian means being able to understand and live with this world in a very special way. It means living with the land, with the animals, with the birds and fish, as though they were your sisters and brothers. It means saying the land is an old friend your father knew, your grandfather knew, indeed your people have always known....we see our land as much, much more than the white man sees it. To the Indian people our land really is our life. Without our land we cannot – we could no longer exist as people. If our land is destroyed, we too are destroyed. If your people ever take our land, you will be taking our life."

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