Desa ends hunger strike

Posted: Sunday, February 06, 2000

In an unexpected move Friday evening, Desa Jacobsson and the Alaska Federation of Natives announced that Jacobsson was ending her hunger strike.

Julie Kitka, president of AFN, said, ``We are announcing the termination of her hunger strike begun Jan. 10.''

However, Kitka stressed, the cause to which Jacobsson is dedicated, the subsistence rights of Alaska Natives, has not ended. Her fight will continue on a new battleground - the offices of Washington, D.C., rather than Juneau's tiny Dredge Lake where she and four other women staged a personal use fishery protest on Aug. 28.

Being cut off from their ancient tradition of subsistence fishing is ``a grave threat to Native people and their families,'' Kitka said. To fight for these traditional rights, she and Jacobsson have scheduled a series of meetings with senior Clinton officials this week.

``I welcome the end of Desa's hunger strike,'' Kitka added. ``I fully understand why she is willing to put her life on the line for her people.'' However, she said, Jacobsson's possible death, although a powerful rallying symbol, might have had less effect in the long term than her continued outspoken activism.

Jacobsson, her husband Robert Willard and Kitka expect to be on their way to Washington on Wednesday.

Jacobsson, 51, the 1998 Green Party candidate for governor of Alaska, broke her fast with bread.

``It can be pretty spooky coming down off one of these things if you are not careful,'' she said Saturday. ``Then I had applesauce and honey. Applesauce is a good substitute for water.''

As she regains her ability to digest solid food, Jacobsson has Bristol Bay strips (smoked salmon) on standby. ``But they are too rich to eat right now,'' she said.

She also has some king salmon in reserve for the next day or two.

Jacobsson and Kitka have prepared documents to distribute among Washington officials, she said. ``The message is still the same: that the knowledge needed to be able to pass the culture on to the next generation is being destroyed.''

The other four fisherman who participated in the August protest were Wanda Culp, 51; Jackie McLean, 37; Desa's daughter Renee Culp, 27; and Tracey Gonzalez, 20. They picked Dredge Lake as the place to cast their nets because Wanda Culp remembered fishing there as a teen-ager.

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