I’m honored and humbled with our family’s recent discovery that we also have a bit of Inupiaq ancestry as well as Athabascan heritage. And I’m really enjoying reviewing the 28 transcripts of Athabascan and Inupiaq elder recordings from our August and September trip.
We are selecting content right now for the radio series, plus we are using the recordings to produce films on Inupiaq and Athabascan response to environmental and climate issues. We’ll be sharing them in April so watch for the schedule of film screenings and community consultations being announced soon.
Here’s a few words from the recording of Allen Stevens (Athabascan) a member of the Alaska Migratory Bird Co-Management Council. It’s in this month’s newsletter because I just can’t keep it to myself. It shows how a little attention to our youth in the Natural world can transform what some labeled “bad apples” into one of the best workers at the camp.
Allen Stevens: So we are up the river with these kids, teaching them about cultural activities that have been done in the past with the fish, with the river. We got into invertebrates at the side of the river, doing stream surveys, “rapid bioassessments” we call it, to see what the health of the river is. If you can pull a net along the grassy area of the river, pull it up and have all these little invertebrates in it, you can show that the river system is fairly healthy.
We involved the kids in that teaching them, not only about why we were doing the project, but the importance of why we had to do that project… because if this river was called The River that Sustains Life to our elders, we want that to be the same river that sustains life for our youth.
We hit them with a bunch of different educational things with the environment. We put the invertebrates into petri dishes that big around, six dishes on top of each other, put some in the first dish, second dish, third dish, and not to be totally cruel, but we took a drop of gas, because in the village when they had oil and stuff, they dumped it. When they changed their gear grease, they just changed it right on the bank. Therefore we’re putting pollution right into the water – still practiced quite a bit up to twenty years ago. So we showed these kids. With one drop of gas with this invertebrate, everything dies.
The kids’ eyes opened up. And then we started talking about pollution even though we started out talking about fish and game. They learned quite a bit from that. So each project that we did, we looked at how the kids can benefit not only scientifically but culturally as well. Every time we did a project we involved the kids. We even had a cultural grant once to help revamp the cultural activities in Steven’s Village. The kids absorbed a lot of that like a sponge.
The biggest thing that the youth have in Steven’s village is the ability to sing. Steven’s Village has always been known for their singing. Even 25-30 years ago, they would travel down(stream) and take part in dance contest. They won the dance contest all the time. When I moved back I saw that singing.
I grew up in the city, so I was like, “Man, I want to do that!”
Over the years, (I) practiced, practiced, and eventually became a singer, my brother and I. When we left the village, I thought, “Man, we are leaving. What are the kids going to do?”
Well, I turned around and looked back, and they were singing and dancing by themselves. So we had an impact on the kids, not only scientifically, with all the things we did, trying to get them interested in science and fish and game stuff like that, but also remembering who they are and where they came from.
It is a really hard juggling act, because I personally live that. I am a Native man that belongs in the woods, but unfortunately, I have to follow the almighty dollar. I have been in urban Alaska now, in Anchorage for two years. Since I was 20 – that’s 24 years I spent out there. For me to finally find out who I was, and then have to leave who I am. I have to go to town to get a job to be that person. It’s hard to be both at the same time. I have nothing but moose on my mind right now, I need to be in the woods, hunting.
But here I am doing a job that I like very much and will continue to do with all my heart, but the kids and the culture activities, they are still continuing to do that today at Stevens Village, even though the community itself has shrunk quite a bit. They continue to be who they are. I wish them all the luck in the world, and hopefully one day I will move back and teach the kids what I found out.
There was (another) 3 year project, the fish that we put radio telemetry devices in. That would be over 90 fish. We flag tagged over 500 fish, and that’s just with the little sticky spaghetti tag – that’s what they are called – that goes on the back fin. But with these radio telemetry devices in the bigger fish, mainly spawning females, 89 percent stayed in that tributary, whereas the state Fish and Game said that they migrate from tributary to tributary. They’re all up and down the river.
Our local elders said “No no. These fish stay right here.”
Well in order to prove it scientifically, we did the project, and those radio telemetry devices don’t lie. 89 percent, that’s basically nine out of ten stayed in that river system. The state recognized that, and they recognized that the fish population had crashed, so they helped Steven’s Village turn that area into a special use area, so now there are special regulations about the harvest of the fish. You can only have five fish, none over 30 inches long –the big spawning females are the ones over 30 inches long—we did all that with the hopes that the population itself would begin to bounce back. We found nothing wrong with that particular tributary. The fish population was very healthy in that. That’s because it is sixty or seventy miles from the bridge, whereas this other one is twenty, so if your sports fishermen only had 20 miles to go to catch a world class pike versus sixty miles, they are going to go twenty.
…We have a family fish camp right across the river from this tributary. Only now recently are we noticing people going up to that river system because they are not catching what they want in that river system. As a local person, living there, it is hard to see. Encroachment is very very big.
It is unfortunate that we have to deal with things like finding a moose with no head. Things like that make it hard when you see other people come into your country.
That particular river system as well, known as Lost Creek, our corporation owns lands in that system as well. We patrol that river system and tell people who are camping up there that they are on private property. “You have to leave.” Nine out of ten times, people will listen to you.
There is always that one that will argue with you, and say “We’re out in the middle of nowhere. No one owns that land.”
Well, that’s my back yard, literally. I tell them, “My grandma grew up in that tributary right there and I am trying to protect it.”
So we did another three year fish project with the kids as well. They did very well for being village kids. A lot of village kids are looked at as mischief, and they are mischief. I mean, I did my share of mischievous things. Or they’re known as rotten apples.
One particular gal that worked for me, some people in the village said, “Are you taking her?”
“Yeah, we have money for these kids, we want to teach these kids. Give her a chance.”
“Well, she’s a bad apple.”
I took her anyway, once when got out of the village and into the woods she turned out to be one of the best workers that I had. It was just a change of environment for her, to get her out of that rut. There is so much to do when you step out of the village. You change your environment, you change the person.