by the 118 Tribes in Western and Interior Alaska
The Arctic-Yukon-Kuskokwim Tribal Consortium (AYK TC) is calling on the Department of the Interior (DOI) and Department of Commerce (DOC) to work with us on the management and conservation of our salmon fisheries and the ecosystems upon which they depend.
The AYK TC, composed of the Association of Village Council Presidents (AVCP), Tanana Chiefs Conference (TCC), and Kawerak, Inc., has worked to understand the causes and reverse the trend of salmon declines in western Alaska since 2002. Now, with the recent addition of the Kuskokwim River Inter-Tribal Fish Commission (KRITFC) and Yukon River Inter-Tribal Fish Commission (YRITFC), our regions have banded together with one voice for one goal:
Restore, maintain, and conserve the health and biodiversity of the Bering Sea ecosystems, rivers to seas, including a focus on restoration of abundance of wild salmon returns, all to provide for our subsistence way of life and other sustainable uses (including sustainable commercial uses) for this and future generations.
The AYK TC represents 118 Tribes and communities in the Arctic/Norton Sound, Yukon, and Kuskokwim regions of Alaska. Fishing families in each of our communities, from the coastal tundra villages to the forested villages in the interior, have sacrificed and suffered due to regionwide salmon declines. These same communities have noticed other species depletions, which, coupled with climate change, point to a potential ecosystem collapse.
The AYK TC is calling upon the federal government to work with the Tribes in their collective region to address this ecosystem crisis.
“Our people rely on salmon to sustain us not just for food security, but as a matter of cultural survival,” says Melanie Bahnke, CEO of Kawerak, Inc. “Our salmon stocks are crashing, and we cannot just stand by idly while being ignored by policy-makers. The U.S. has an obligation to Tribes and must engage with us to reverse the course we are on. We call on policymakers to fulfill their responsibilities to Alaska Natives who are dependent on our natural resources. The government must stand with us, and not against us, as we have a mutual goal of abundance of resources. The time to act is now.”
Says Vivian Hooper, CEO of AVCP, “Our villages on the Yukon Kuskokwim Delta experienced a devastating salmon crash in 2021. It has touched every household and every family in our region and has directly threatened food security for our people. There are approximately 15 more weeks to this Spring’s River Break Up, and that is when we expect the salmon to start to return to our rivers. We are in a critical time now where, instead of preparing for a bountiful harvest of salmon, we are worried about what is going to happen this summer if another crash happens. We need answers and we need the federal government to help lead by listening to our recommendations and implement actions now.”
Brooke Woods, Chair of YRITFC, in conjunction with Elder James Sipary Sr. of Toksook Bay, say, “Our people’s survival, the river’s survival, and the salmon’s survival are interconnected. Our communities are heavily dependent on salmon, salmon need help in the Bering Sea to survive. We used to have an abundance of king and chum salmon, and we do not want king salmon to be a story for our children to hear. Our children need nutritional salmon harvested by their parents and grandparents. Our land, water, and resources need to be respected and not wasted, for waste does not fit in our traditional ways; it is not our word. We cannot wait any longer to act on behalf of our people. We, the people of Alaska, will not to be silent and hereby speak our minds and the wishes for our survival.”
The AYK TC is requesting DOI and DOC assist in prioritizing Tribal participation in ecosystem conservation and cooperative management; facilitating systematic change to ensure Tribal participation in federal fisheries decision-making bodies; establishing a salmon recovery program; and identifying and designating Indigenous protected areas/ecological marine conservation areas.
Vivian Korthuis is the CEO of AVCP, an inter-Tribal non-profit consortium based in Bethel, Alaska, and controlled by 56 federally recognized Tribes. We provide human, social, and other culturally relevant services to our member Tribes, which are located in villages throughout the Yukon-Kuskokwim Delta in an area of approximately 59,000 square miles. We have and continue to be fully committed to advocating for the protection of the Bering Sea and its resources.
Melanie Bahnke is the CEO of Kawerak, Inc., a regional Native Non-Profit consortium for the Bering Straits region, provides social, educational, construction, and other services to the people of the Bering Straits region on behalf of the region’s 20 Tribal governments. Teaching subsistence values and preserving the subsistence way of life of the people in the region – who are primarily Inupiat, Yup’ik, and St. Lawrence Island Yupik – are among our core priorities.
Mary Peltola is the Executive Director of KRITFC, which represents the interests of the 33 federally recognized Tribal governments in the Kuskokwim River region in fisheries assessment and sustainable fisheries management. Tribally-appointed fish commissioners, executive council members, and in-season managers combine Traditional Knowledge and western science to conservatively manage Kuskokwim fisheries according to Yupik and Athabascan Dene values. The values at the core of our work are social and environmental justice, equitable and sustainable salmon harvests throughout the watershed, and unity as one fishing people along the Kuskokwim River.
Brian Ridley is the Acting President of TCC, an Alaska Native non-profit corporation, also organized as Dena’ Nena’ Henash or “Our Land Speaks”. We are a consortium of 42 federally recognized tribes of interior Alaska. We work to meet the health and social service needs of Tribal members and beneficiaries throughout our region. We provide a unified voice for our tribal governments’ by advancing economic and social development, supporting physical, and mental wellness, designing education opportunities and protecting language, and traditional and cultural values.
Brooke Woods is the Chair of YRITFC, which was founded on Tribal unity for the health and well-being of Tribal members, future generations, and all Alaskans and Canadians who rely on the health of the Yukon River fisheries. We are committed to conserving, restoring, and providing for Tribal use of fisheries based on indigenous knowledge systems, scientific principles, and sound management. We represent 28 federally recognized Tribes along the Yukon River in Alaska, from Kotlik to Eagle. Our geographic area covers the following ANILCA federal lands and waters used by the member Tribes: Yukon Delta, Koyukuk, Innoko, Nowitna, Kanuti, and Yukon Flats National Wildlife Refuges and the Yukon-Charley Rivers National Preserve.