Alaskans divided over the harvest of a wayward gray whale.
John Tracy examines the reaction to the hunt and harvest of a whale on the Kuskokwim River.
Sacrifice or slaughter? In this week’s Reality Check John Tracy examines the reaction to the hunt and harvest of a whale on the Kuskokwim River.
If you live long enough, you’ll see everything.
I don’t think that’s a Yupik proverb, but that’s surely how a lot of elders in the village of Napaskiak felt last Thursday when a Gray whale suddenly appeared outside their village 60 miles up the Kuskokwim River.
The villagers made the decision to harvest the whale, generating a Federal investigation.
The Gray Whales that visit Alaska are not endangered species, but they are protected. Which means hunting is forbidden, even by Alaska Natives.
Even though the elders of Napaskiak had never seen a gray whale that far up the river, the Yupik culture tells them to accept such gifts of food as a blessing.
A lot of Alaskans, including myself, had to examine our own internal compasses to accept or reject the sacrifice of the whale.
What I discovered reviewing more than 200 comments online, is that one’s opinion of the story was affected by whether you read it or you watched it.
Those who read the story on the Alaska Dispatch, especially when it was first reported, were overwhelmingly negative toward the actions of the villagers. Especially when it appeared that the whale had sunk to the bottom of the river.
In contrast, those who responded to KTVA’s Facebook page after viewing the story of the harvest from photojournalist John Thain, had a more positive view, especially of the outcome.
If you only saw photos or video the pursuit of the whale by enthusiastic but untrained whalers, it did reflect somewhat poorly on the village.
But, if you witnessed the communal sharing of the whale and the relief 20-thousand pounds of meat means to those living a large subsistence lifestyle, you could easily consider the whale a blessing.
So, here’s your Reality Check. I’m not a hunter myself, but I kill as many salmon as necessary every summer to help feed the family.
Far be it from me to be critical of a people who for generations, have harvested whatever they can to help them survive the winter.
A Tlingit friend once told me the difference between Native culture and Western culture is that Alaska Natives don’t play with their food.
And for the villagers of Napaskiak, that is what the whale represented.
They’ll likely get a firm reprimand from the Feds sometime this winter, which I expect, they’ll read while enjoying a bowl of whale stew.