Many Strands in the Net of Subsistence: Alaskans Share Experiences, Values and Hopes
“Each culture has their own values…You understand our value of our resources, and we respect you for that. Thank you for listening to us.” -Grace Washington
From 1998-2003, AFSC partnered with Alaskan Quakers to sponsor Alaskans Listening to Alaskans about Subsistence.
Subsistence has been a major conflict in Alaskan public life in recent years. The State of Alaska provided a preference for rural subsistence hunters from 1978 to 1989. In 1989, the Alaska Supreme Court ruled this preference unconstitutional. Alaska statutes were changed to make all Alaskans—rural and urban—eligible to be considered for a subsistence preference. This put Alaska law at odds with federal law as reflected in the Alaska National Interest Lands Claim, which obligates the federal government to manage subsistence on federal land. Currently, management of the state’s resources is split between state and federal authorities.
Prompted by the growing polarization in public discussions about hunting and fishing rights, AFSC’s Compassionate Listening Project tried something new: create a neutral and affirming space in which both sides of the conflict could safely listen to, and connect with the humanity in each other. This was primarily done by videotaping listening sessions and village visits, then screening the videos for people holding opposing views. A groundbreaking session which gathered a cross-section of program participants together was also held. During the life of the program, over 200 Alaskans in the communities of Buckland, Huslia, Fairbanks, Chitina, Anchorage, Cordova, Juneau, Angoon, Hydaburg, Craig and Klawock shared their values and experiences with each other.
The project culminated in two unique resources: An Open Letter to Alaskans, [link] and a seven part DVD series entitled Sharing Ground: Alaskans Listening to Alaskans about Subsistence. Episode 1 provides a snapshot of the diverse Alaskans reached, and the surprising values and concerns they hold in common amidst different cultures, histories and lives.
“All my family’s jobs rely on commercial fishing. We get a lot of deer and ducks in the winter to make it through. Can’t really afford to buy meat all the time and so we rely on that stuff. We eat a lot of fish in the summer too, so it’s pretty important.”
“It’s a real hard life in the city…we’re not free to do what we were born to do…I’m thankful that I’m not so far from Kotzebue. So we can go back, hustle some meat and bring it back…When you’re a Native and a hunter it’s right there with you all the time.”
The Sharing Ground series was produced with the generous support of the Alaska Humanities Forum. Copies of the entire series can be ordered for $20 from the Alaska Humanities Forum: 421 W 1st Avenue, Ste. 300 Anchorage, AK 99501 or 907-272-5341.