Protest on Park Strip Attracts Hundreds from Across Alaska
Subsistence and whaling topics of concern
ANCHORAGE - Hundreds of people from all over the state gathered on the Park Strip in downtown Anchorage Wednesday afternoon.
“Let my people eat,” said Lydia Winters, dancing, holding a sign over her head. Her feet danced to the rhythm of a drum and continued when Anchorage police showed up next to her.
Each individual had a different reason for attending the peaceful protest. “No more genocide,” shouted Winters, as drivers honked their horn in support.
“It hopefully makes people more aware and they will think about it,” said Dorothy Nix, of Prince of Wales Island.
Nix fishes throughout the year because groceries on the island are too expensive. She said that everyone needs to understand why subsistence hunting and fishing is so important.
“I love to hunt, fish and share,” said 71-year-old Roseabelle Rexford. “I share not only with my family, I share with whoever needs it, especially widows like me.”
Rexford is one of ten children and has lived her life in Barrow. For more than half of a century she’s been whaling in its waters with her family.
“I have been whaling crews for many years and I teach my children and my grandchildren.” She hopes that her grandchildren pass the tradition down to their grandchildren because it is part of the Inupiat way of life.
Rexford and her sister Janie Snyder still crew in the fall and spring, when it’s time to harvest whales. “When I am in the crew, I am helping with the oaring.”
Snyder said she is still impressed with how fast they can take a whale.
But in the 50-plus years they have been taking on the Barrow waters, they said much has changed.
“When there never used to be any coal dust at all, we used to catch 20 whales every spring,” said Rexford.
The sisters can recall one spring when they took 12 in a day. This fall, the community was only able to take 10. “We were given such small amounts of whales nobody wants to lose them,” said Rexford.
They fear those numbers will only get worse
“I think the drilling of oil companies is going to ruin our way of hunting for whales, not only whales,” said Rexford. “Also for seals, whatever we eat from the salt water.
"It's part of our happiness. I am always happy once I am being sent out to participate in whaling," said Rexford, after reciting it in Inupiat (for the Inupiat version watch the video to the upper left).
Although not everyone who gathered here today is a whaler they all agree they’re happiest when they’re continuing the traditions of their ancestors.
“My sign should say honk if you love fish,” said Nix, while laughing. “And I do.”