Subsistence, Land and Language


Jennifer Canfield/KMXT

Blood quantum is a controversial topic within the Alaska Native community. It’s just one of several issues that were discussed on Tuesday’s Talk of the Rock. There are many perspectives on the system which exists to define to a Native person’s heritage in fractions. Blood quantum plays a role in how certain laws, regulations and benefits affect Alaska Natives.

Melissa Borton is the tribal administrator for the Native Village of Afognak. Borton says that the Marine Mammal Protection Act is one example of a regulation that could extinguish a part of her Alutiiq culture. The act requires that a person be one-quarter Alaska Native to take protected marine mammals for subsistence. Borton says that could be problematic in the future as not all tribal members meet that requirement. Her tribe is in favor of an alternative to the blood quantum requirement.

(Local Tribes 1 :25 "And so our push is tribal membership because the tribes have the sovereign authority to decide who our membership is. Some tribes use blood quantum, some don’t. Essentially, if we stick to one-quarter blood quantum we could find ourselves in the not so far away future where can’t practice our cultural traditions by taking marine mammals."

Another concern for Kodiak-area tribes is land. Leisnoi Corporation and the Coast Guard are two of the largest land holders on the island. Iver Malutin, who is the Sun’aq Tribe’s council chair, says that local tribes have a lot to gain if they were allowed to manage some of that land. He says the tribe’s main function is to put food on the table and to do that they need better access.

(Local Tribes 2 :29 "In my estimation it would be really nice if the corporation let us manage a lot of the land that they’re not managing. Right now I’m working on trying to get land from the Coast Guard base that was given to the military base during World War I. There was about 20,000- 40,000 people here then and they needed a lot of land. Now there’s only 3,000 Coast Guard here and they don’t need all that land. We could take them fences down there and we could have hunting and fishing all over much of the land. Only the land they don’t need and they could let us manage it. That’s what we’re trying to do now."

Better access to the Alutiiq language is also an important issue to the tribes. Borton estimates there are fewer than 20 fluent speakers on the island and most of them are in their 70s and 80s. The Native Village of Afognak recently launched a website that teaches the Alutiiq language. The Alutiiq Museum also has resources on their site with the hope of revitalizing the language. Borton is optimistic about its survival, however she’s also realistic about the challenge it presents.

(Local Tribes 3 :21 "I have hope. Yeah, I have that hope. I know that the programs that we’ve been working on for the last ten to twelve years are making a difference. I can tell you that my children know a lot more Alutiiq language than I did at their age. They know a lot more than I do know. So, yeah, I have that hope. Whether or not we’ll be producing fluent speakers? We have a lot of work to do to get there."

Yesterday’s (Tuesday’s) Talk of the Rock segment was the first in a series of discussions about current events and perspectives in the local Native community that KMXT plans to broadcast. ###

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