Government, State issue joint apology to Alaska Natives over migratory birds
It was an apology some say was 20 years overdue. On Thursday, the Alaska Department of Fish and Game issued a joint apology with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service to Native Peoples in Alaska for the enforcement of hunting regulations which prohibited the harvest of migratory birds and their eggs during the 1960s and '70s.
The Migratory Bird Treaty was signed into law in 1918 in order to restore bird populations that had been devastated by commercial hunting. But it failed to take into account subsistence use by Alaska Natives. That meant rural residents couldn't hunt the birds that returned every spring, or collect their eggs, even though both were considered important food sources.
People who were caught doing so were cited and often had their guns confiscated, further endangering their livelihoods.
The law was changed in 1997, but for many people, the resentment still lingered.
"We were out in the country continuing to live our lifestyle," said Cyrus Harris who grew up in Kotzebue and helped facilitate the apology. "But, of course, we had to deal with that enforcement and that took a lot of effect on a lot of our people."
Alaska Fish and Game Commissioner Sam Cotten joined Gregg Siekaniec, director of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service in Alaska, to issue the joint apology to members of the Alaska Migratory Bird Co-management Council which is meeting in Anchorage.
"We recognize that the regulations were wrong, that they prohibited hunting of migratory birds when you needed it most during the springtime," said Cotten. "We got it wrong, we regret that we caused harm. We realize now that it was a wrong regulation to have in place so we apologize for that."
Afterward, the men signed official letters of apology and distributed them to members of the Council, many of whom said the joint statement meant a lot.
"This moment right here isn't going to fix what has happened in past years, but it could actually bring healing," said Gayla Hoseth, a member of the Council from Bristol Bay. "And healing is what needs to happen for Natives throughout the state on all issues."
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