by George Pletnikoff
July 8, 2007
Now we have traveled to five tribal villages: Port Graham, Kodiak, Old Harbor, Chignik and Sand Point. Just about two hours ago, we arrived and dropped anchor in King Cove, the last village on the mainland of Alaska. From here, we head out to Akutan, the beginning of the Aleutian Islands. As you may have read from the others onboard who have posted blogs, the tour has been more than we expected. Celebrations. Observations on peoples ways of living and making that living. Discussions. Serious ones. Who, where, when and why. All seeming innocent questions, but taken very seriously by all involved.
As we village hop on the Gulf of Alaska side of the Alaska Peninsula, I listened and looked intently at the differences between our stops. Settings, harbors, mountains, channels between islands scattered along the coast and teams of wildlife. A large pod of whale here, some sea otter there, birds, vegetation, no stellar sea lion, and some sizes of villages. But that is not what I am interested in, although they capture ones attention and demand an audiance. We all look for how things in general are different, that seems to attract our attentions. I wanted to know what the similarities, what sameness, what are these five villages like with one another. And I am affraid I did not have to look very long. All are same in what drives their economies. Fish and more fish. Concern about the fish. Prices. Amounts of fish. Openings for when the fish are to be harvested. Clousures. When will the State of Alaska shut down a fishery for escapement? What are we to do? How can we subsist and create security for our families? Who is doing what and when and where? Questions and concerns all the same, between the five. The answers? Well, those can vary from place to place.
We meet with the Tribal leaders of each of these communities. They are intense. Serious. Straight forward and questioning. If we do not apply the concepts of the heritage zones, what are we to do? How can we institute such a program? Is it possible? When can we begin? And here is where I find the similarities. When can we begin.
We, I say repeatedly, began this concept well over 9,000 years ago. Unlike the mandates of the Alaska Native Claims Settlement Act which created artificial securities, we select lands of value, be they economic, traditional, spiritual or cultural lands, the US Congress allowed our people three years to decide which of these lands, and there is a bunch here in Alaska, we deemed important and worthy of our attention. What the US Congress failed to do, what the world essentially did not know or realize, nor what we did not understand at that time as Alaska’s first peoples is that the land is simply a place to build shelter and rest upon. We understand the term land, as in we care for our land, to mean also water. We know, teach, and have known that the earth is one; land and water are the same and must be treated as such. Some Western thinkers and economists decided that there is a difference, tought that difference and imposed that difference as though we did not know. And we may have learned that difference too well. But, as the similarities develop as our tour progresses, we are regaining our heritage, our traditional understandings, our cultural fineness, reinstituting within what we have been tought well by wise people, our ancestors. They are not different. Land and water are the same and we have always known that. What happens to one, affects the other. How we treat one we must treat the other.
In our case, as Alaska’s first peoples, the water is our bread. It is from where we get our nurturing, our energy, our life! It is said that my people understood that the water is the blood of Mother Earth. This is not new for almost any indegenious peoples throughout the world. Western man simply did not, and has not gotten that, and they dominate all aspects of life, down to what happpens in our bedrooms. Western man is misleading himself and his heritage, his future when he seperates land and water. He uses one, cuts it up and hopes it does not impact the other. And he has not learned. It is very sad.
The sameness between the first five, the starting five, I am sure will be the sameness for the following tribes. Water and land. No difference. And so we journey, meet, laugh, sob at times, and hope. For what we hope? That finally our knowledge and understandings of our planet we call Earth will finally get its due.
Until Next Time.