“…self confidence lost.”

by George Pletnikoff

January 3, 2008

As we look to our trusty dictionary put together in Webster’s name, Third College Edition, to find the word “confidence” we find a part of the definition: belief in ones own abilities; the fact of being or feeling certain. Very cool words. Words that as young people we have been taught to believe in, to accept and to cherish because they, the meanings of these words, will carry us a long way to success in our lives.

In Alaska today, as in many other places throughout our shrinking planet, we are experiencing something so ominous that never before in the history of humanity we have ever experienced anything like it. We debate; question; lay out facts; make movies; win Nobel Peace Prizes, and yes, write opinions about global warming, or climate change as some choose to call it. Global warming. Interesting group of words. As in the globe is warming. The Earth is warming. Very interesting choice of words. And the facts are indisputable. It is happening.

Now, I can list the many examples and scientific facts of how we know for certain that global warming is happening, tell you who is saying what, where, and why. I can use the models that say this part of the globe is warming a degree here, a degree there. We can assemble a whole bunch of lists of examples of weather changes all examples of how temperature changes impact our weather, and ultimately our people, humanity. But, you can read that elsewhere. This is not one of those articles. This is a simple paper, thoughts, words about what I see and how I understand what is happening to my people here in Alaska, the Last Frontier.   

We, Alaska’s Native Peoples, indigenous peoples, have a long and proud history in our home. We settled here, in a place some call a frozen wasteland, birthplace of the winds, to raise families, develop cultures and a lifestyle from a rich but often unforgiving environment. And today, we take much pride, a healthy pride in what we have accomplished. We still speak a language handed down to us over hundreds and thousands of years. We still-hunt and gather our foods, as did our ancestors. We still call this place our home. We are still here. Now, as never before, we wonder in our homes, beside our wood fires, gathered around our dinner places, speaking to our children, wondering how much longer we are going to be here. Where are we going to be? In our villages or moving to the larger and more unforgiving cities, places where crime is rampant and food is scarce. Food, that is, that we know and have confidence in that is healthy for our diets. We just don’t know.

Local and national newspapers are filling with news about the plight of our home. Erosion from ocean storms is cutting into the security, the places on land where we live and have lived. Land is washing away, giving way to angry water. Winter is settling in, in ways never before experienced. And we are hunting for foods growing more and more scarce. Our animals, once respectful of our ways, are moving away and not coming back to offer themselves to us. They don’t respect us any longer. And we grow hungry. And we only drive motor bikes, bikes that leave such a small footprint of carbon that it is not we who have brought this plight, but someone else, someone far from our shores. But we are suffering. And the animals don’t respect us any longer.

We at Greenpeace have gone, on two consecutive seasons, to the Bering Sea to bear witness, to learn first hand the plight of our people. We have traveled hundreds and thousands of miles in our boats; a leased MV Pacific Storm and our own MY Esperanza to seek insights from our people about what is happening and how we can help to make a change. We came to the Bering Sea and the Gulf of Alaska to find answers, only to find more questions. We listened, interviewed, filmed, talked, and planned. We are here. And we are still seeking answers.

Food is becoming scarce. Not only is the food we depend upon harder and more difficult to capture, but the food we use as economy to buy food from our shrinking shops, imported to supplement our diets. Fuel to drive our motor bikes, power our skiffs our boats, is expensive, in some places a gallon well over seven dollars. Oil to heat our homes comes from Venezuela, a foreign government. And we are here.

From our works, our interviews, our films, and our talks, we think we might have found a way to help insure longevity for our people in our villages, for all of us actually. To ensure food, health and a return to a vibrant culture, perhaps we can etch out zones in the water, in the Bering Sea, the Gulf of Alaska, where we can begin to rebuild a home for our animals and plants. We call these zones, cultural heritage zones to emphasize the best of what we are. (I speak of “we” in both the sense of being Alaska Native and a member of humanity) Zones in the water protected from the destructive practices of the way western man harvests fish and now think is normal.  Ways that destroy, perhaps forever, in one’s lifetime, that is forever, habitat critical to the needs of our foods and our homes. Ways that, unless we put a stop to their insidious creeping crawling scraping of the oceans floors, are insuring our end to survival as Alaska’s first peoples, not to mention the creation of another George’s Banks. Large commercialized factories on the water called trawlers are doing this and the animals are blaming us. They don’t know we respect them. They, our foods think, it is we, collectively, destroying their homes, and perhaps they are right. For if we do not speak up to put an end to this practice of sweeping up the floors of our waters, yes, it is a collective destructive force no matter who is doing it. Cultural heritage zones! What an idea. What an answer to our needs, to our questions. Protective areas where we can ensure the health of our foods, where they, our foods can regain their respect for us, where once again, we can have confidence in who we are and what we do.

The water changes color, temperature and viscosity. We wonder about its health, leading to our way of life. The globe, the Earth, the planet is warming and our hearts have become colder, facing questions too difficult to answer. But, we are here, working and seeking. Join us in our quest to regain confidence, to regain the trust of our foods, our animals and plants. Join us as we move to continue our cultural heritage place on this planet we call Mother Earth.  

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