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Alaska Natives Increasingly Criminalized for Practicing Their Traditional Way of Life Say Enough

October 17, 2012, Anchorage -- Alaska Natives are rallying to demand an end to the criminalization of indigenous hunting and fishing rights and traditional practices. Community leaders insist that federal and state leaders uphold subsistence priority on all Alaskan lands and waters and adopt policies that provide a greater voice and increased Alaska Native participation in hunting and fishing management. The rally, organized by a statewide coalition of Native groups, sends a clear message to legislators and politicians that ending failed subsistence policies is a priority for Alaska Natives, come Election Day.

Natives are convening at the “I am Alaska Native: Hunt, Fish, Share Rally” to protect traditional subsistence living after a contentious fishing season that highlighted the tensions between state officials and Alaskan Natives.  The Alaska Federation of Natives annual conference  have identified food security and management of subsistence resources as one of five top policy issues delegates will discuss and vote on.

“They try to say that Alaskan Natives are not united on this issue, that we don’t even know what it is that we want,” said Randy Mayo, First Chief of Stevens Village. "This rally demonstrates our united front, and, grassroots Alaskan Natives are banding together to demand a change in how Alaskan Natives are treated in this state.”

The rally highlights Natives’ history of managing land, rivers, and natural resources for thousands of years, their unsurpassed knowledge of the natural environment and the importance of biodiversity and a healthy ecosystem in relation to food security and subsistence. Native leaders note that traditional knowledge is not meaningfully adopted by federal and state agencies or lawmakers when developing and enforcing policies that have a tremendous impact on the health of the Alaska Native population, already burdened by remarkably disparate rates of suicide, depression, domestic violence, diabetes, and heart disease.

“Ten thousand years of experience trumps five years of surveys,” said Clinton Wiehl, hunter and fisherman from Beaver, AK.  “We shouldn’t have to deal with being followed and harassed by Fish and Wildlife officials out in the bush. My family is counting on the food that I’m able to hunt. Denying us our traditional way of life is killing Alaska Natives. It’s as simple as that.”

Alaska Natives say restrictive regulations and increased punitive enforcement have been detrimental to Natives’ day-to-day lives and consider these symptomatic of structural issues related to the protection and prioritization of tribal sovereignty and subsistence rights, as well as Native cultural tradition and health.

“This is a life-or-death issue for us,” said Randy Mayo. “I’m just glad that my grandmother isn’t here to see how bad things have gotten. It would have broken her heart.”

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