By Willow Hetrick
For the Cordova Times
Chugach Regional Resources Commission (CRRC) has been hosting an annual Subsistence Memorial Gathering near the anniversary of the Exxon Valdez Oil Spill (EVOS) for 20 years. This day-long celebration is not meant to remember or relive that tragic day and the years of devastation that ensued but to honor the resilience and adaptation in the wake of that terrible tragedy that was forced upon the people of the Chugach. As such, each year the board of directors and CRRC staff choose a topic to focus on which helps recount traditional knowledge, build relationships, and heal from the spill that has continued to impact the region.
After two long and hard years during the COVID-19 pandemic, CRRC thought there was no better year to focus and celebrate “Our Subsistence Resources” and that’s because there is no better time to ensure food availability and safety than now. Disruptions in supply chains, isolation, mental health concerns and angst have plagued everyone these last two years. It is time to focus on recovery from the pandemic, fishery disasters, and the disruption of subsistence patterns caused by climate change by building capacity for food security and natural resource management. This year’s theme brings us back to who we are as Alaskans. The identity of the Chugach Region is shaped around subsistence resources. Alaska Natives have learned the animal’s behaviors, how to hunt successfully, how to gather effectively, skinning, butchering, cleaning, rendering oil, proper hide preparation, weaving, skin sewing, and utilizing resources to their full extent. These skills are handed down from generation to generation and are vital to culture, food sustainability, and economic well-being. It is important to the identity of the Chugach People that this Traditional Ecological Knowledge (TEK) continues to be shared.
While Natives’ definitions of subsistence tend to be broad and holistic, non-Native conceptions are typically more restrictive. Subsistence lifestyles are time-honored, largely self-regulating traditions among Alaska Natives. Subsistence is synonymous with culture, identity, and self-determination. Every year tens of thousands of Alaska Natives harvest, process, distribute, and consume millions of pounds of wild animals, fish, and plants through an economy and way of life that has come to be termed `subsistence.’ Collectively, these varied subsistence activities constitute a way of being and relating to the world, and thus comprise an essential component of Alaska Native identities and cultures.
CRRC was founded on community-based, Alaska Native natural resource management and community resiliency is the central thread interwoven throughout all programs. The Indian Self-Determination and Education Assistance Act [ISDEAA] of 1975 (Public Law 93-638) recognizes the inherent status of member Tribes as sovereign nations. CRRC serves as the ISDEAA-sponsored natural resource management agency on behalf of seven sovereign Tribal governments (Tatitlek Village IRA Council, Native Village of Eyak (Cordova), Port Graham Village Council, Nanwalek IRA Council, Chenega IRA Council, Qutekcak Native Tribe (Seward), and the Valdez Native Tribe. We operate the Alutiiq Pride Marine Institute located in Seward, Alaska which is the only tribal shellfish hatchery in the state of Alaska.
Willow Hetrick is the executive director of the Chugach Regional Resources Commission.