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Council of Athabascan Tribal Governments holds Congressional briefing addressing Alaska Natives’ Traditional Hunting and Fishing Rights & Co-Management thru Self-Governance at the Capitol

Washington, D.C. — “I can think of no better managers of our natural resources than Alaskan Natives,” said Senator Mark Begich (D) of Alaska at a March 6 briefing at the Congressional Visitor’s Center.  “This issue is controversial, but an important one.” Senate and House Staffers, food security, environmental and American Indian advocates, and Senator Begich were in attendance.

Koyukon and Gwich’in speakers representing the Council of Athabascan Tribal Governments (CATG) shared the severity of their situation highlighting the threats to their way of life and their ability to provide for themselves, their families, and their communities.

CATG Chair and First Chief of Beaver Tribal Council Rhonda Pitka said, “ We are here to seal our rights to hunt and fish for generations. Adequate opportunities for self-governance and co-management must be afforded to ensure the future health and well-being of our people.”

“Failing to feed our families is not an option,” says Jessica Boyle, First Chief of Circle Tribal Council. “In order to feed our families we have to practice our traditional way of life, but we are criminalized for this.”

The Alaska Native representatives travelled over 2 days from their remote villages to speak to Congress to directly address the ongoing legal morass and harassment endured by the Koyukon and Gwich’in of the Yukon Flats, and all Alaska Natives, when trying to provide for themselves, as their people have for countless generations.

For Walter Peter, a Gwich’in hunter and fisherman who provides for 13 people in his extended family, “It fills your spirit to provide for your family.” In a report co-authored by CATG and the Alliance for a Just Society, Walter talks openly about the pride he feels in being able to share seasonal harvests with his family and community through potlatches, “Nothing ever goes to waste. We are always sharing and giving our foods.”

Ben Stevens, Executive Director CATG made clear that conflicting federal and state legal frameworks and lack of recognition of indigenous rights have left “all Alaska Natives without recourse for the criminalization of their hunting, fishing, and gathering practices in their traditional hunting and fishing grounds.”

Danisha Christian, a national organizer at the Alliance for a Just Society laid out the policy requests and called on Congress to take steps to protect the rights of Alaska Natives.

Traditional and customary  hunting, fishing, gathering, and sharing, often referred to as ‘subsistence’, is the single most important issue facing Alaska Natives as named by the delegates of the 2011 Alaska Federation of Natives Convention. Over 30 cases have flooded the courts in the last two decades relating to Alaska Native hunting, fishing, & gathering rights, exemplifying the need for a resolution to this critical issue facing Alaska today. 

“Survival Denied: Stories from Alaska Native Families Living in a Broken System” details the urgent need for the people of the Yukon Flats, along with all Alaska Natives, to have food security and a meaningful co-management relationship with state and federal agencies. The Alaska Federations of Natives (AFN) Board of Directors unanimously endorsed the joint. The Alliance for a Just Society is a national organization supporting grassroots organizing on racial, economic and social justice issues.

The report is available online at www.catg.org/natural-resources/reports

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