ANCHORAGE (AP) — Gov. Sean Parnell told a convention room full of Alaska Natives on Thursday about something they’re already keenly aware of: It’s been a tough year for king salmon runs.
Parnell was among speakers opening the annual convention of Alaska Federation of Natives in Anchorage.
“I’ve been very concerned about how some of you, some of our neighbors, how many Alaskans are going to struggle through this winter,” Parnell told the crowd.
The low king numbers that kept freezers low for subsistence fishermen is expected to be a key topic at the three-day gathering at the downtown Dena’ina Civic and Convention Center. The poor salmon runs led to bans that some Native fishermen defied and to federal disaster declarations for the Yukon-Kuskokwim area as well as Cook Inlet.
Parnell told the audience he was working with Alaska’s congressional delegation to get appropriations from the declarations. He said he’s also convened a panel of scientists and experts to study the problem. The team will host a forum in Anchorage next week.
“You are encouraged to participate in that forum,” Parnell said.
Later on Thursday afternoon at a subsistence management workshop, attendees called for additional hunting and fishing rights to preserve the subsistence way of life. Members of a panel overseeing the workshop said an overlapping management system run by state and federal governments is not working.
People in the audience who spoke out included Sammy Jackson, a Yup’ik fisherman from the Kuskokwim River village of Aniak who was cited this summer for fishing for king salmon despite a state ban.
He was among about 60 cited altogether, with most cases including his reduced to infractions.
After speaking, Jackson told reporters he is fighting the ticket and is due before a judge in November.
When the state issued its original seven-day closure, Aniak elders told people to honor it. When the state extended the closure another five days, that was too long to not gather food for survival, Jackson said. People had to put food on the table for their families and drying fish later in the season takes longer and is more challenging because of factors like rains and flies.
“The elders told us to go out and exercise our God-given rights,” Jackson said. “They didn’t tell us to protest.”
Also on Thursday, retiring U.S. Sen. Daniel Akaka of Hawaii was presented with an award for his years of championing tribal issues.
The Democrat greeted the audience with, “Aloha,” and got the same greeting from the applauding crowd.
Akaka, who leaves office in January after 35 years in service, said he was honored to receive the award and impressed to see so many Alaska Natives in attendance. He said he had enjoyed watching traditional dancing earlier in the day.
“We need to keep this culture throughout the generations to the future,” he said.
Jacqueline Johnson Pata, executive director of the National Congress of American Indians and an Alaska Native, said convention goers had many concerns including subsistence rights, the high cost of energy and protection of tribal lands. But the most important thing for Alaska Natives now, she said, is to vote in the November election and rally as many others to do the same.
“That’s the first thing you need to do,” she said.