OP-ED Inuit Circumpolar Council Response to the topic of Global Climate Change
Tremendous risk to the food security of Alaska’s indigenous peoples
Climate change poses a tremendous risk to the food security of Alaska’s indigenous peoples, and changes in state and federal policies could go a long way toward mitigating that risk and averting a potential crisis.
Climate change has already impacted traditional food sources, and will likely create more disruption. Changing weather patterns have limited the ability to go hunting. Sea ice has diminished and become more unstable. Species of wildlife have changed their migration patterns. Melting permafrost is reshaping the environment. Changing ocean conditions and rising water temperatures are altering fish runs. Foraging locations continue to change or even diminish as forest fires become more widespread.
The environment is changing and our Indigenous knowledge is having to adjust and account for these changes. And the change is occurring at an ever faster rate, particularly in the coastal areas, creating domino effects for entire food chains.
With their control over vast amounts of land and the process for establishing hunting and fishing regulations, the state and federal governments have the authority to assist in the survival of indigenous culture, or hasten its decline.
As the stewards of the land for thousands of years, we need to have a say in federal and state resources management. Based on our practiced observations of evolving conditions, we have ideas about how to conserve our resources while allowing access for the people most in need. Too often, however, our ideas have been dismissed by the state as contrary to the preferences and convenience of urban area residents.
Though climate change is generally acknowledged as a reality by all those who have studied the data objectively, the political will to take decisive action to mitigate and adapt has been sadly lacking. Sitting down and talking with indigenous peoples is an effective way for both the federal and state governments to avert a food security crisis in rural Alaska that is currently on track to happen sooner than previously predicted.
The federal government should be a stronger advocate for indigenous hunting and fishing rights and be more forceful in upholding its obligations under the Alaska National Interest Lands Conservation Act (ANILCA). The federal government should set precedent for a new and cooperative relationship with Alaska Natives by strengthening and implementing resource co-management systems. Co-management results in mutual decision-making, providing the managers with more information and the users with more responsibility.
Likewise, the State of Alaska should cooperate with Alaska Native communities and leaders on wildlife management issues. In policy and regulation development, food security should be prioritized over other resource uses.
As the first resource managers, we are highly adaptable. Amidst the current changes, we will adapt accordingly and allow future generations to thrive for thousands of years to come. The State of Alaska and U.S. federal government should institute a formal consultation process to result in satisfactory outcomes for all parties that allow Alaska Natives—and all who live in this great land—to keep up with the rapidly changing environment.
About James Stotts
James Stotts has a long history of involvement with the Inuit Circumpolar Council (ICC). He represented Alaska on the first ICC Executive Council in 1980. Jimmy currently serves as the President of ICC-Alaska.