Environment | Opinion

Opinion: Incorporate Native knowledge into management

The Kuskokwim River Inter-Tribal Fisheries Commission meets in Bethel, Alaska. Photo from Native Village of Napaimute

Professor Alan Boraas discusses the importance of the new Kuskokwim River Inter-Tribal Fisheries Commission:
Co-management of wild resources is based on a “meaningful role” for indigenous Alaskans as defined in Section 801 of the Alaska National Interest Lands Conservation Act (ANILCA). In the Y-K Delta, co-management has operated for years in organizations like the Yukon-Kuskokwim Delta Regional Advisory Council and The Kuskokwim River Salmon Management Working Group among others. So the Yupik Inter-tribal Fisheries Commission respondents know whereof they speak when they express concerns that village people have been misunderstood or outright marginalized by state or federal managers.

Ostensibly, co-management brings both local resident subsistence fishers and U.S. Fish and Wildlife or state Fish and Game managers together to make decisions about allocation, gear type and openings among others issues that affect salmon. These decisions are critical now that king salmon runs are so low. Historically, however, co-management has not been co-equal because the participants have dramatically different world views and different degrees of political power.

One perspective is that of traditional indigenous salmon fishers, downriver Yupik and upriver Dene, for whom salmon and other wild foods have been a staple for thousands of years and have consequently shaped cultural beliefs and form personal identity. The other perspective is that of wildlife managers who implicitly believe in the superiority of science-based management over other ways of knowing.

The foundation of an indigenous view is based on a multi-millennial heritage of observation and imbuing nature with a willful spirit. It is that willful, sensate spirit that humans interact with through ritual, conscience, and actions. You interact, not manage. Science, whether biology or psychology, cannot explain the concepts of free will or spirit (soul). Consequently, in the rationalist view of empirical science, neither exists and managers roll their eyes when Native leaders talk of the spirit of the salmon.

However, each is closer to the other viewpoint than either group might care to recognize.

Get the Story:
Alan Boraas: Science-based wildlife managers should think again about Native ways (The Alaska Dispatch News 5/9)

Also Today:
New tribal fish group aims to help manage Kuskokwim fisheries (The Alaska Dispatch News 5/7)

Related Stories:
Mark Trahant: Alaska tribes eye role in wildlife management (5/11)

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