As other indigenous peoples around the world joined efforts, so must we, the people of the Bering Sea

by George Pletnikoff

October 16, 2012

USA ALASKA ST GEORGE ISLAND 7JUL12 - Greenpeace US Alaska oceans campaigner George Pletnikof, a native of the island, speaks during a community meeting on the island of St. George in the Bering Sea, Alaska. Photo by Jiri Rezac / Greenpeace © Jiri Rezac / Greenpeace

Jiri Rezac / Greenpeace

Community Meeting on St. George Island, Bering Sea Alaska

George Pletnikoff speaks at a community meeting on St. George Island, Bering Sea Alaska. Photo: Greenpeace/Jiri Rezac

For thousands of years, the Aleut People have survived on the bounty of the Bering Sea. By some standards, archaeologists have agreed that the Aleuts are perhaps a unique group of people in that we have lived the longest in one location than any other indigenous group in the world without leaving or migrating, such was the abundance of food.

About 60 years ago, we began to notice the arrival of large boats off our Island shores. We really did not know what they were doing or why they began to show up on our horizons more and more often. When we found out that they were fishing in our waters, the Bering Sea, off the Western coast of Alaska, we began to pay closer attention to their activities. It did not take too long to begin to see, minor changes in our local environment, from this commercial fishing activities. And today those changes are so evident. Once there were upwards of 20,000 Aleuts living on the Aleutian Islands, and now, 60 years later, there are only about 5,000 local residents. Many of our villages were abandoned when our people could no longer gather the foods upon which we depended upon for generations.

Primarily due to the non stopping activity of commercial fishing, today there are over 10 species of marine mammals, birds, and whales that are listed as either depleted, threatened or endangered. And the list of local animals that we depend upon for our foods is still growing. These factory trawlers and commercial fishing vessels are not only destroying the benthic habitat of the Bering Sea, but also the biomass of the foods our foods depend upon. Currently there are well over 30 indigenous tribal communities that are no longer allowed to gather certain species of salmon for food because of their very low numbers needed to replenish the stock.

We are working very hard to try to set aside large areas of the Bering Sea as marine protected areas in order to try to help bring back the ocean and the foods we depend upon for our survival. Unless we are successful, I am afraid that we, the indigenous peoples of the Bering Sea will also be listed as depleted, threatened or endangered.

As our waters, our homeland, our garden is quickly becoming a desert, we have begun to look at examples of how other indigenous peoples around the world are dealing with what is essentially the same exact problem. They go hungry, we go hungry. As they joined efforts to protect themselves and their children, so must we, the people of the Bering Sea.

The Indian Ocean is home to some of the world’s richest tuna fishing grounds. They are a valuable resource to coastal states and an attractive fishing opportunity for foreign fleets. Unfortunately illegal and unreported fishing is a major problem in the region. For countries like Mozambique, monitoring their waters is not an easy task due to resource constraints. Greenpeace has recently been working with the Mozambican government, providing fisheries officials with a platform to monitor and patrol the country’s waters.

As with all our brothers and sisters throughout the world, we must recognize our worth as a people, first, and then begin to fight for our survival. For if we do not have any self worth, or any worth for our children, we will surely have to leave our homes and finally give all that we are away to the powerful. This must not be.

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