On a sunny, cool October afternoon in downtown Anchorage, nearly 200 Alaskans gathered on the city’s park strip to demand restoration of indigenous rights and freedoms — namely the ability to feed families by living off the land, unobstructed by rules and regulations that came after Outsiders showed up and took control of the Last Frontier.
…Subsistence rights long have been a divisive issue in Alaska. Just this summer, when salmon fishing was reduced on the Yukon and Kuskokwim rivers due to a shortage of king salmon, dozens of fisherman who defied the closures found themselves slapped with tickets. Others had their nets and catch seized. Some nets were cut.
The so-called “fish in” was viewed as a political statement of Alaska Native sovereignty. But the law didn’t care: The fisherman were violating state rules, and 33 citations were written, 21 nets and 1,100 pounds of salmon were seized. In Alaska, all residents are expected to live under the same laws of the land. ”When they cut our fishing net, that’s really our lifeline that they are cutting,” Princess Lucha, the event’s emcee, told the crowd. Fisherman aren’t out fishing for themselves, she said — they’re fishing for family members and often entire communities. What hurts one fisherman, hurts a community.
The rally was a precursor to what is expected to be a hot topic at this year’s Alaska Federation of Natives convention, which opens Thursday at Anchorage’s Dena’ina Convention Center. The largest gathering of Native people in the United States, AFN can be a powerful vehicle by which Alaska Natives articulate their needs and command the attention of state and federal politicians.
Alaska Natives at Wednesday’s rally were pushing for a constitutional amendment, better co-management practices, and an end to what they characterize as the criminalization of traditional and customary practices…The fix, according to rally participants, is to restore to Alaska Natives their indigenous rights, and recognize their equality as stewards of natural resources and government leaders.