I have been an assistant hunting guide for five years, big-game transporter for three, wolf trapper for 10, and an Alaska Native for 35 years.
Growing up in my hometown of Allakaket, I have with my people lived a subsistence assimilation with the earth and have helped manage our traditional hunting lands as did my forefathers.
Villages survived by having a handful of great hunters who respected the quarry and always shared the catch with everyone in the village. This is a true practice in every village here in Alaska. Alaska Nati ves watch the weather as it changes on our traditional hunting grounds, temperatures during the four seasons, health of the animals we harvest, berries, fish numbers, how often it rains or snows, and we all respect the animals we harvest down to returning the bones back "into the woods" so our quarry will be plentiful for future generations.
It is an extreme taboo to waste our harvest, so from when we begin to hunt with our fathers, uncles, or grandfathers we are taught only to take what we need. Hunters and elders communicate to find guidance within our tribe and relate sightings along to others. With this all said, I find it distasteful and disrespectful that the Alaska Natives are never mentioned in the great debate over predator control from the News-Miner to self-proclaimed visionaries like Vic Van Ballenberghe. It is like no one lives out in rural Alaska that is worth mentioning. It seems the only time the villagers make the paper is when the troopers fly out to the villages, yet we are never mentioned in the debate over predator control.
Living in Galena and now Fairbanks has enriched my knowledge of all consumptive users of ungulates here in Interior Alaska. Truth be told, the consumptive users will only grow in the future. It is up to us all to find checks and balances within the game populations. Alaska Natives have a deep respect for the wolf, wolverine, and grizzly bears. They are intertwined within our lives and traditional practices. We never want to see these animals wiped out, but the numbers can be culled in order for seasonal harvests by all user groups.
In 2002 I founded a group called Friends of Moose in Galena which was comprised of subsistence, sport, and commercial guides that came together and all worked towards a common goal, "Promoting abundant wildlife, educatio and cultural preservation." We all were vocal about not eradicating the predators but culling enough so that there would be enough game for all user groups.
This was when the state and federal governments were having meeting after meeting and not much was getting accomplished. You can't kill wolves with paper, you kill them with steel snares, traps, and bullets. I was tired of all the political "bigness" that was taking place and found out that locals can make an immediate impact by working together.
The animal rights activists have always pushed for the abolishment of all hunting practices. If this were to happen, my Athabascan culture would surely disappear and die in short order. Alaska Natives are efficient hunters, what would we do without being able to harvest our traditional foods? We cannot scale a Hot Pocket, skin a box of chicken, or pluck a can of Spam. We all want to go to heaven, but we don't want to die right now!
Somehow we must all work together and solve the real problems. We all live here in Alaska and that is what makes us unique from other states.
In Mr. Ballenberghe's recent column in the newspaper, he pointed out how extreme it was that so much wolves were getting killed. I wonder if it occurs to him that there are hungry people living in rural areas that are having a tough time? With fuel prices at $6 per gallon in Allakaket and the price of basic groceries going up, life will only get tougher. We are proud people and all Americans. Yet somehow we get shoved under the carpet of politics and still the tourists take our pictures. Sometimes I think we are a third world country like Haiti, but at least it is warm there. So Mr Ballenberghe, the next time you go to a village take a few photos and trade a local for a pair of moccasins, because the way you see things, we are not in your future.
Pollock "PJ" Simon was born Allakaket and currently resides in Fairbanks.