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It Never Ends…

by George Pletnikoff

May 19, 2010

During the Summer of 2007 I was fortunate enough to travel on Greenpeace’s wonderful vessel, the Esperanza. As we left Homer Alaska to begin our two-month journey into the Bering Sea, my home, we made a quick stop at Port Graham in Kachamak Bay in the southern Cook Inlet. This was a blessing for me in many ways, mostly because it was one of my Parishes in my other life for eight years! Port Graham was also one of the many Alaskan Native Villages severely impacted by the Exxon Valdez oil spill of 1989. Here is some of what I learned during this visit.

Greenpeace image of oiled pelican
May 15, 2010 – Dr. Erica Miller, a member of the Louisiana State Wildlife Response Team, cleanses a pelican of oil at the Clean Gulf Associates Mobile Wildlife Rehabilitation Station on Ft. Jackson in Plaquemines Parish, La. (U.S. Navy photo by Mass Communication Specialist 2nd Class Justin Stumberg/Released)
Read more latest news about the BP Deepwater Disaster, view more pics, and take action to prevent the next oil spill

We arrived in Port Graham and immediately visited one of the Tribal Council’s most respected elders, Eleanor. She had so many stories to tell that if we had stayed for a whole day we would not have heard them all, so she chose a few important to what we were doing. One of the statements she made regarding the impacts of the oil spill was, “It never ends….never goes away.” And to this day I am deep in thought over those words. What did she mean? Why did she say that?

She said that her grandchildren, born right around that time in 1989-90, were lost children. Lost because they would not know what it means to go hunting, fishing or berry-picking and gather food, their traditional food, and share it with the village. They did not know, nor would they ever experience, the joy of giving a five-gallon bucket of clams to the elders in the village, the shear goodness of carrying on this long-standing and sacred tradition. They would not know the blessings of capturing a harbor seal for food — not killing the animal but rather receiving it from the animal itself as a gift to them. They would not know the experience of bringing the animal to the beach and ceremoniously thanking the animal, and returning unused parts of the animal back to the sea. They would not know that respecting the seal and all foods in this way and returning parts of it back to the sea was a respectful thank you. They would not know the certainty that the animal will return once again to offer itself as a gift to the village as food. They only would hear stories of how it was done once and what it means.

Eleanor continued to speak in a way that only a suffering grandma can speak: in slow, quiet, well-chosen words peppered with patience and longing.

She continued: "My grandchildren will not know the joy of being hungry and exhausted following one of these food gathering journeys so familiar to those of us blessed to have been born at a different time. When one gathers food in such a manner, creating an unmistakable tie to centuries of ancestors, doing what they did in a manner considered the only way to do it, it opens thoughts and feelings in the mind and heart one can only experience by doing these activities. They will not know this. And the exhaustion, the hunger can only be granted by following these traditions, feelings granted by our ancestors because of our efforts. This is not suffering. This is real connection to life, to holy things. They will not know this."

“It never ends,” she concluded. “These generations of young people cannot experience these gifts because they have grown older and these things can only be done at a certain age, at certain places, at certain times and certain seasons.”

The forlorn sounds and expressions in her voice and deeply in her eyes said it all. They are lost. This is a part of what the oil giant Exxon spewed upon an ancient people. Not only was the environmental disaster totally destructive to the ocean and its flora and fauna, but to generations of lost people, as well. People who can only dream about what could have been. People who could not experience this important transitional time of their lives. Surely the ocean and lands, mother nature may some day recover so future generations can return to their sacred traditions. But can they really? There may not be anyone around who knows these things to teach them — or worse, they just would not know what they could have learned.

And now Shell plans to begin drilling in the Arctic Ocean, even as the oil continues to pour into the Gulf of Mexico.

It never ends.

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