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Rhonda Pitka: Alaska Natives put priority on subsistence rights

Rhonda Pitka

Rhonda Pitka, the chief of the Beaver Native Village, was a participant in a Native roundtable with President Barack Obama on Monday, August 31. The following is the text of her prepared remarks at the meeting in Anchorage, Alaska.

For decades, Alaska Natives have identified the most pressing issue and priority amongst our people to be the mismanagement of hunting and fishing resources and the lack of tribal rights tied to these resources.

Mr. President, there is no other group in this country that rely on the land, animals, fish, and plants, like the Alaska Native tribal members living in our remote villages. The federal agencies refer to this as “subsistence” but for our people the traditional hunting and fishing practices, including the ceremonies that accompany these practices provide for wellbeing and survival of our people and communities.

We want you to know our traditional practices and the resources are in continued jeopardy, with Alaska Natives disenfranchised in a highly complex regulatory and management regime dominated by federal and state governments. Climate change has only made this issue even more pressing in the past 10 years as we see fish and animal populations dwindle.

Under your administration there has been some improvement, and we very much appreciate the announcement yesterday for funding of the tribal co-management demonstration project on two of our major rivers, yet there is so much more that can be done.

We ask that more tribal co-management projects be implemented which gives tribes an actual voice in the management. We ask for tribal self-governance agreements within the Department of Interior outside of the traditional BIA compacts.

The federal agencies should make room for Alaska Native tribal governments as we seek to properly manage the lands and resources that we not only depend on, but in which we have a deep spiritual connection since time immemorial.

My people that reside in the heart of Alaska, the people that have bared the burden of the billion dollar high seas fishing industry which has decimated the King Salmon population-we have accepted living a life without luxuries such as running water, but we will not accept living without a meaningful voice in a management system controlled by outsiders in which our daily meals depend.

The subsistence management in this state can only be described as the greatest injustice facing the Alaska Native people and I speak for my grandmother when I humbly ask you for your assistance today.

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