AFN convention centers subsistence amid a lawsuit to protect traditional hunting and fishing rights

An older woman with grey hair wearing a kuspuk speaks at a microphone.
Lucy Weedman gives testimony on the Mulchatna caribou herd at AFN on Friday. (Matt Faubion/Alaska Public Media)

Climate change poses threats to subsistence practices across Alaska, particularly affecting Alaska Native communities who have relied on the land for food for millennia. Subsistence concerns were a major topic of discussion at the Alaska Federation of Natives convention on Friday. 

“Subsistence isn’t just the food we eat, it’s our way of life and who we are as a people,” said Denise May, the tribal administrator for the Native Village of Port Lions on Kodiak Island. 

May spoke at a forum at the convention, where people from all over Alaska spoke about their concerns for salmon, caribou, whales, berries, and other subsistence food sources. 

Delegates from the Yukon and Kuskokwim Rivers, which are experiencing a historic salmon collapse, focused on fish.

“All of us here are related and connected through salmon,” said Charles Wright, from Rampart. “It’s dear to all of our elders, [and the] mental, physical and spiritual wellbeing of all of our people.” 

Wright and others voiced anger for the loss of subsistence resources in many parts of the state. In addition to climate change impacts, they point to state management systems.

“The management is broken. We need to stand up together and demand more,” Wright said.

The Alaska Federation of Natives recently signed onto a federal lawsuit against the state of Alaska to protect subsistence rights. Currently the state doesn’t enforce a preference for rural subsistence users in fish and game management decisions during times of resource shortage. 

That contradicts the Alaska National Interest Lands Conservation Act, or ANILCA, that gives rural residents preference during restrictions. The Alaska Constitution mandates resource access for all Alaskans.

“The time for recognized tribal stewardship is now. The time for sovereignty is now,” said Jonathan Samuelson, chair of the Kuskokwim Intertribal Fish Commission, another organization that signed on to the lawsuit. 

The commissioner of the Alaska Department of Fish and Game told KNBA that the agency is following its constitutional duty to provide equal access to wildlife resources and maintaining authority over navigable waterways. Both sides expect the fight to reach the U.S. Supreme Court.

Kavitha George is Alaska Public Media’s climate change reporter. Reach her at Read more about Kavitha here.

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