Rally cry: Fight is for food, not politics

Native leaders want city dwellers to understand need for hunting, fishing in villages

Posted: Thursday, May 04, 2000

ANCHORAGE - Alaska Natives held signs reading ``No More Broken Promises'' and ``Awaken the People'' as they marched through the streets of Anchorage and Juneau on Wednesday to raise a rallying cry for subsistence rights.

About 1,500 people participated in the 18-block third annual ``We the People'' march in downtown Anchorage. Another 90 people rallied on the steps of the Capitol in Juneau, accompanied by an Alaska Native veteran color guard.

In Anchorage, Marvin Madros said Natives rely on subsistence hunting and fishing because they don't have enough money for store-bought food.

``We can't buy beef off the counter because we don't have that many jobs back home. We have to go hunt,'' said the laborer from Kaltag. ``It is the only way we can survive.''

Marvin Deacon of Grayling said city dwellers misunderstand why Natives have to hunt and fish for subsistence.

``The people in the city think we use this as an excuse to hunt game, but we depend on it for our food. There is no economy in the villages,'' Deacon said.

In Juneau, some speakers pressured lawmakers to bring state subsistence laws into compliance with federal law, which guarantees rural Alaskans first rights to fish and game on federal land. State law grants all Alaskans equal rights to the resources.

Wanda Culp, who held a hunger strike to bring attention to subsistence issues, said the message needed a larger audience.

``We're not here to talk to the state of Alaska, because the state of Alaska is not listening,'' she said, criticizing the Legislature and Gov. Tony Knowles.

Knowles, who also spoke, said lawmakers should take steps to incorporate a subsistence provision into the state constitution. He also said the Legislature has failed to take enough steps to provide decent schools, clean water and protection of children.

``The message of the march is that there is a lot of work to be done by Alaskans together,'' Knowles said.

The federal government has stepped in to guarantee subsistence rights, said Sen. Georgianna Lincoln, a Rampart Democrat, but it's disappointing that the protections are not in the Alaska Constitution.

``Every year, we're going to be here,'' she said. ``We're going to be marching until we settle subsistence.''

In Anchorage, Gerald Pilot held a sign reading ``Support Tribal Rights.'' He said lawmakers are ignoring the needs of Native people.

``The Legislature especially hasn't realized we are here to stay and an important part of the whole picture,'' Pilot said.

May Agayar of Anchorage said she's afraid lawmakers are trying to phase out subsistence hunting and fishing altogether. Her elderly father and mother live in Alakanuk, along with her two brothers and five sisters. Smoked fish gets them through the winter, she said.

``I think they should let them subsistence fish, at least for their food. It is hard to survive on that food all winter,'' Agayar said.

Iris Johnson, 14, of Anchorage said she returns each summer to Iliamna to fish for red salmon. Her work helps feed 16 aunts and uncles and 45 cousins.

``They don't have it where they can go and get groceries,'' she said. ``My relatives have been living off subsistence for a long time.''

Empire writer Svend Holst contributed to this report.

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