Subsistence lifestyle or unfair advantage?

Posted: Wednesday, January 19, 2000

This is a response to the letter written by August Martin (Monday, Page 4) I also read the report of Desa Jacobsson's civil disobedience and her reasoning for what she did. I agree with August when he says Alaskan Natives are losing their heritage and traditions. But I don't agree with the idea that the cause of these problems is the local government. This is, instead, the unavoidable evolution of their own people, and Desa Jacobsson and August Martin are just as guilty of this as anyone in the government. This evolution is a world-wide phenomenon, not restricted to the Native American culture. Regardless of our culture, in our modern society, we as individuals see things that others have and we want them. We voluntarily abandon our cultural heritage for convenience and comfort.

To illustrate: Do Desa or August currently live in a lodge like those of their ancestors or have they decided to abandon that tradition for a home with electricity, heat and hot water? Do they drive cars? Do they listen to the radio or watch TV? How about clothing? Are they still weaving their own or are they buying them at Lamonts and Fred Meyers? What language do they use to speak to their children? And lastly, there is the food. They claim the right to gather natural resources for subsistence. Does this mean you will live off only what they gather? Or will they succumb to an occasional Pop Tart or the weekly trip to McDonalds?

I have no argument with subsistence families claiming the right to gather natural resources to survive. I have seen those families, living on float homes in remote areas, cabins in the mountains and villages along the coast, and they really do need that right to survive. But I do have an argument with people who are sitting cozy in their thermostatically controlled home, dressed in current fashions, watching television, munching Cheetos, and surfing the net complaining about how other people are ruining their heritage and spoiling their traditions.

Unless you can honestly say that you live exactly as your ancestors did, you are just as guilty of destroying those traditions as anyone else, including those government officials who are trying to preserve Alaska's natural resources so that there will be fish, crab, shrimp, and etcetera for your children to enjoy. I have an argument with people who try to use their heritage simply to gain an unfair advantage in their otherwise non-traditional lifestyle.

Patrick McGonegal



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