Working for my children…

by Guest Blogger

July 13, 2006

The following posting is from oceans campaigner George, who is onboard in the Bering Sea

Today is the patron feast day of St. Paul Island. The island was named after and in honor of the Apostles Peter and Paul, which were also the names of the vessels in which the Russian Garasim Pribilov used when he accidentally found these islands. I say found because in the Unangan folklore we talk about our ancestors knowing of the existence of these Islands eons ago but never settled here. We never settled on these islands because although for five months out of the year they are teeming with wildlife, the other seven months they are barren. It is almost impossible to subsist here. We had no land animals until reindeer were brought here. We have no salmon streams. Nonetheless, we are celebrating our holiday today, and the island has quieted, at least from the normal activity of other weekday work noise on the street and in the homes. People are going to church. And the crew is invited to their potluck to join in the celebration. It does my heart good.

At supper last evening we watched a documentary, Man’s Thumb on Natures Balance by NBC News, done back in the day, around 1972 when the issue of the commercial harvest of the fur seal was at its peak. It brought back many memories for me. Some good, because I got to see the images of people who are no longer with us and for whom I have a lot of love and respect. And it brought back some not so good memories, mostly because the exploitation of any animal is not good. The killing of any animal is not fun. When done for any other reason but for food, is not something one takes pleasure in. But that is what I thought, and still do, as I watched how the Unangan of the Pribilofs were a captive workforce for the United States of America, Canada, Japan and Russia because of a treaty between these governments to share in the bounty of the Pribilofs, the fur seals, and on the backs of its Unangan people. Thirty-three or so years after this documentary was made it still conjures up many mixed feelings; anger, love, and very little peace.

My son is fishing for halibut here, doing what I did to help supplement my income when I was the Russian Orthodox pastor here for fifteen years, a position I no longer hold. He is hopeful, young and strong. He goes to school in Anchorage during the rest of the year. He is working hard with the rest of the crew in a small 28-foot boat. I wonder if he wonders if I am doing enough to ensure he can catch fish. Maybe that’s my own wondering? I have a need to work hard to do the best I can, as does any parent, to ensure that my children have a choice in life. When it comes time for my five children to want to come home and be Unangan, they need to have something to come home to. It seems a daunting task. The commercial fishing industry and all its culture is so big, wealthy and powerful compared to the people on the Pribilofs. But talking with the other crew on our ship I have hope. Hope that we will prevail in protecting the Bering Sea’s resources. Hope that we can and will make a difference. Hope that one-day before too much longer my son will know that I am doing well in my work.

Again the weather is chilly, for July standards, and misty. Maybe for good reason. The seals need this kind of weather to survive and be comfortable. The birds seem to be happy. And the people are opening their homes to us. We, Greenpeace, are welcome. As we prepare for our community meeting this evening, we cannot know for sure who will come or what will be said. We all need help; help in supporting one another’s work and efforts. A little encouragement goes a long way, and we accept any crumb that falls our way. But today is a holiday, a time to put aside our worries for a bit and meditate on the blessings we have. Tomorrow will soon be upon us, and my son will be going out for another trip. I need to rest today for I know the challenges of tomorrow will still be there and I must be clear of mind and spirit to ensure there are fish to catch and families to feed.

– George

Note: George was born and raised on the Pribilof Islands, is Aleut (Unangan) and has worked on environmental issues with the Bering Sea for almost 30 years.

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