Arctic Voices

Arctic Gardens Ebook - Forward

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In the Alaska Native Claims Settlement Act of 1971, Congress abolished the aborigi- nal rights of Alaska Natives, including their aboriginal rights of hunting, fishing and trap- ping. Congress had spoken. Yet when I held hearings in Alaska in 1984, Alaska Natives defended these same rights. Their defense was best made by a 14-year-old, Teddy Coop- chiak, Jr., at Togiak:

"How should Natives give up their hunting rights? It is well hidden in our mind, and nobody could take it away, like a bird who flies, and nobody could take it or boss it around."

Congress should let Natives boss themselves, because they have survived during the past. Had to make their own laws then, make their own decisions. That is why they are known to be smart people. That’s why they survived in the Arctic for so long."

Zacharias Hugo of Anaktuvuk Pass: “We need that land to subsist, we need that land to find our food, we need that land for our children someday, so that they may use it.”

Lori Kingik, a young woman, at Point Hope:

"We, the Inupiat people, have always shared and divided our food, and that is our way of life. I do not want to lose our cultural lifestyle, because it is so pre- cious. Our Inupiat lifestyle from time immemorial has been utilized and it is still prevalent today. We have practiced our whaling traditions and we are still using them today...The whaling tradition is the most precious in my life."

The ancient art of whaling exists alongside many examples of government-supplied amenities – the school, the welfare office, the water truck. The people here use snowmo- biles. They play basketball. They watch television. Like all cultures today, theirs is chang- ing, but their ancient beliefs and values persist. The Inupiat in the whaling villages asked, “Why are we here, if not to take whales?”

These were people who spoke when I traveled in the Arctic more than 20 and 30 years ago. Yet these same voices may be heard today in Arctic Gardens. A generation has passed away, but these same ideas endure.

Harvard Ayers, Landon Pennington, and Dave Harman have included in Arctic Gardens contempo- rary voices raised in defense of subsistence, offering a defense of a way of life. In the midst of the tumultu- ous changes in the Arctic over a generation and more, these voices speak to these same values.

But, of course, there has been movement all along to drill in the calving grounds in Alaska. The idea of drilling for oil and gas in the calving grounds represents a kind of technological manifest destiny.

The struggle to protect these lands has been a joint struggle, led by the Gwich’in on both sides of the international boundary, and by their allies in the United States and Canada, some of them, people from the Lower 48, who have made Alaska their home, and who speak for themselves in this book.

In summer, 2005, traveling with David Suzuki and The Nature of Things, we camped in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge, south of the calving grounds, as the Porcupine Herd was leaving the calving grounds on the coast and beginning its migration back into the mountains. We could see them in their thousands on the slopes, and sometimes, with their calves; they came very near to the creek where we had pitched our tents. It was solemn, stunning, and stirring. To the Gwich’in this has always been a sacred place. And so it should be to all of us.

In North America a particular idea of progress has become fixed in our consciousness, but Canadians and Americans nevertheless have a strong identification with the values of the wilderness and of the land itself, a deeply felt concern for the environment. Americans invented the idea of national parks. In the United States this goes back to the establish- ment of Yellowstone in 1872. Just more than a decade later, in 1885, Canada established the Rocky Mountain (now Banff) National Park, Canada’s first national park. In recent years we have seen the growth of ecological awareness, a growing concern for wilderness and wildlife and environmental legislation that parallels – although it does not match – the increasing spread of our technology and the consumption of natural resources.

All of this is occurring in a suddenly altered Arctic landscape. The Arctic is the epicen- ter of global warming. The shrinking of the Arctic ice represents a threat to polar bears, seals, caribou, the whole range of Arctic marine mammals and wildlife – a threat to the traditional way of life dependent upon these resources. The evidence of climate change in the Arctic is accumulating day by day. The permafrost is melting. The ice in the rivers goes out earlier; greater snowfall is impeding the migratory routes of the caribou. If present warming trends continue, the Arctic landscape could be greatly altered within our lifetime. It makes it all the more necessary that we hear the voices raised in this book, voices of both Native people and respected scientists.

Harvard Ayers, Landon Pennington, and Dave Harman offer us all an opportunity to listen to these voices and their stories, stories that are engaging at all levels and that enable us to get to know these people and the gardens of the Arctic.

Thomas R. Berger, QC Vancouver, B.C. September, 2009

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