Subsistence Statement from Gambell, AK
"Are you all familiar with the 4X100 yard relay race? In this event, four members of a team each run 100 yards and pass a baton to their teammate who is waiting to run the next leg. This procedure is followed until finally the fourth man runs to the finish line, baton in hand. If the baton is dropped during a hand-off, the team is out of the race.
"Let us relate this track event with our people on St. Lawrence Island. If you can, imagine that each sprinter represents a generation of St. Lawrence Islanders in a race of life. The 100 yards represents 100 years. The baton would represent the harpoon and the spectators in the stands would represent our forefathers who have passed on.
"The harpoon and the harpoon head, collectively, have been and continue to be the cornerstones of St. Lawrence Island material culture. These two objects have been vital in providing food, clothing and shelter for our people for centuries. We can safely say that the harpoon is our baton of identity, our baton of life.
"For over 2,000 years, without fail, each generation of Sivuqaghmiit has passed the baton onto the succeeding generation. Today, the idea and purpose of the harpoon remains constant. What is of grave concern to us is our inherent right to pass the baton to the next generation of Sivuqaghmiit. Their time is fast approaching.
"Today, rightly or wrongly, the state of Alaska's position on subsistence endangers this passing of the baton to the next generation. Our struggle is not about equality, nor the definition of rural or urban-the answers to these are in the dictionary.
"Our struggle is not about being Native or nonNative, sustained yield, nor the issue of customary trade. It is much more than these.
"Subsistence is about existence itself. It is about the meaning of life. It is about pain, sorrow, and happiness. It is about satisfaction, renewal, and hardship. It is about humor. It is about discipline, knowledge, and wisdom, to name a few.
"Our counterparts in our struggle for subsistence will cry foul, "Wait, where is your proof? Your legal document or legislation or an act of Congress to base your opinion?" We're sorry, our proof outdates recorded history.
"This harpoon head is estimated to be over 2,000 years old. It was found on St. Lawrence Island. This is our proof to base our beliefs with. As you can see, it is much older than the Alaska Constitution and the U.S. Constitution. Our forefather's `file cabinet' was the permafrost.
"This is our proof that through subsistence our people have managed to survive for centuries. So much is at stake. We are not about to give up our inherent right to pass our baton of identity to the next generation. Not after over 2,000 years of doing so. Our forefathers are cheering and rooting for us in the stands."
Article copyright Cultural Survival, Inc.