“Nanook of the North was not initially intended as a documentary, a genre which had not even been defined at the time of the film’s production. As Flaherty’s widow Frances affirms in the interview featured on this disc, the film was made with an eye for commercial distribution and exhibition, and for audiences accustomed to narrative fiction films. Flaherty was not an ethnographer, but he was building his story out of the materials of real life. In this he was blazing cinematic trails, and even though the tenets of anthropological filmmaking were not nearly in place, it is remarkable how much he still managed to get right. Initiating a practice that would later become fundamental ethnographic etiquette, Flaherty developed each day’s footage and screened it for the participants, who were encouraged to make suggestions. Since the Inuit were the authorities on their own lives, many of these suggestions were incorporated into the film. Consistent with this substantial artistic collaboration, and contrary to a narrative and stylistic impulse that would prevail elsewhere for many more years, Flaherty does not intrude on his subject. He is not the star of his film, and though his effaced presence causes a few unsightly wrinkles (contrivances—like Nanook’s biting of the phonograph record—are presented as actual and natural), for the most part it means that the credit for the film’s feats of courage and grace goes precisely where it belongs: to the Inuit.” – Dean W. Duncan, Nanook of the North
“Down on the dock I say, “Gunalchéesh,” as my friend hands me a five-gallon bucket filled with herring eggs on hemlock branches. I take the bucket home and start a small pot of water boiling. I blanch a small batch of eggs and then eat them with soy sauce. It tastes like home. I am home when I eat herring eggs. Later, I take the herring eggs around to friends and elders. Sharing is an important Tlingit value and sharing herring eggs is a ritual connecting me to my people and place. This ritual is in danger of being lost.
Sadly, we are running out of time to save the herring. The herring fishery in Southeast Alaska is one of our “canaries in the cave,” meaning the herring decline is an early indicator of problems throughout our food web. One after another, 11 herring management areas in Southeast Alaska have been over-fished to near extinction. Extinction is a serious word. Historical herring fisheries once thrived at Kah Shakes/Cat Island, West Behm Canal, Ernest Sound, Hobart Bay, Seymour Canal, Chatham Strait, Hoonah Sound, Tenakee Inlet, Auke Bay, Lynn Canal, Icy Strait and Yakutat Bay. The Sitka Sac Roe Fishery is the last population of herring in Alaska to provide a significant commercial harvest and subsistence herring egg harvest. Despite these losses, Alaska Department of Fish and Game has ignored the traditional ecological science and testimonials of the Tlingit who’ve harvested in a sustainable way here for more than 10,000 years. Mismanagement has resulted in the decline of our herring population. This frightens me. Our elders tell us that life in Southeast is not possible without the herring. Why is this so hard for the state of Alaska to understand?”
Top: Herring eggs hang from a hemlock branch in Sitka. (Courtesy Photo | Vivian Prescott), Bottom: In this photo from the William L. Paul Sr. Archives, herring eggs dry on the beach in Sitka circa 1900 (Courtesy Photo | Sealaska Heritage Institute).
Replenishing Major Food Sources of Native Alaskan Tribes: Managing Yukon River Chinook Salmon Populations
Megan Lorino, UAF Wildlife Biology and Conservation Studies
Populations of Chinook Salmon have been dwindling in the Yukon River for many years and have been monitored closely by scientists with the goal of bringing healthy populations back. Native Alaskan tribes have always relied heavily on these salmon populations as a major food source. The United States and Canada came to an agreement in 2016 known as the Yukon River Salmon Agreement; the goal of this agreement was to begin working on restoring healthy salmon populations which end up being harvested in both Canada and the United States. Climate Central reported that in 2014 Chinook Salmon populations in the Yukon River dropped so low that there was a hold put on subsistence fishing. Native Alaskans rely heavily on these salmon populations for subsistence in their tribes. “Subsistence salmon fishing is at the core of many residents’ livelihood; integrating fish wheels, dip netting and fish smoking into many Alaskans’ everyday life. Salmon are more than food or just fish – they are a way of life to many Alaskans (Beutler, 2016).” I examine possible solutions for preserving and rebuilding salmon populations in the Yukon River with the goal of replenishing this important food source for Native Alaskan tribes which still rely on harvesting wild resources in order to survive. Environmental factors such as sea ice temperature and salt concentrations will need to continue being monitored to determine where fisheries management can assist in spawning and abundance of this critical food source.
Alaska Department of Fish and Game, 2019. 2019 Yukon River Salmon Fisheries Outlook. http://www.adfg.alaska.gov/static/applications/dcfnewsrelease/1029815354.pdf
Alaska Department of Fish and Game, n.d. Subsistence in Alaska. Overview: Definition, Responsibilities and Management. https://www.adfg.alaska.gov/index.cfm?adfg=subsistence.definition
Beutler, H. 2016. Threat to Salmon Imperils Alaska’s Culture. Climate Central. https://www.climatecentral.org/news/when-salmon-disappear-alaskan-culture-may-follow-20522
Burke, J. 2012. Alaska Natives rally for restored aboriginal hunting, fishing rights. Anchorage Daily News. https://www.adn.com/alaska-news/article/alaska-natives-rally-restored-aboriginal-hunting-fishing-rights/2012/10/18/
Gautier, A. 2019. Running against time: Forecasting Chinook salmon runs on the Yukon River. NSIDC Highlights. National Snow & Ice Data Center. https://nsidc.org/nsidc-highlights/2019/08/running-against-time-forecasting-chinook-salmon-runs-yukon-river
U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service. 2002. U.S. and Canada Sign Historic Yukon River Salmon Agreement. News Releases. https://www.fws.gov/news/ShowNews.cfm?ref=us-and-canada-sign-historic-yukon-river-salmon-agreement&_ID=2592