Natives march through streets for subsistence rights

Posted: Wednesday, May 03, 2000

ANCHORAGE (AP) -- Alaska Natives held signs reading ''No More Broken Promises'' and ''Awaken the People'' as they marched through the streets 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. Some Natives in traditional dress banged on ceremonial drums, chanted and danced to bring attention to the cause.

Marvin Madros, a 39-year-old laborer from Kaltag, held a sign that read, ''Strength in Unity is better than a Fight.'' He 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... 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.''

In Juneau, about 90 people rallied on the steps of the Capitol, including an Alaska Native veteran color guard. Legislators have been under pressure 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.

Gov. Tony Knowles, who joined other speakers, said that besides not taking steps to incorporate a subsistence provision in the state constitution, 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, D-Rampart, 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, 47, 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, 38, 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.''

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