Indigenous Women Call for Systemic Changes to Subsistence Regulations for Further Protection of Indigenous Sovereignty and the Tongass Forest
JUNEAU, Alaska (March 31, 2020) – On March 25, 2020, a Women’s Earth and Climate Action Network (WECAN) Indigenous Women’s Tongass Delegation participated in the Southeast Alaska Subsistence Regional Advisory Council (SERAC) in Alaska to advocate for changes in interpretation to and implementation of federal subsistence, land conservation, and environmental policies and regulations.
“Subsistence” practices are the cultural food assurance actions and methods derived from Traditional Ecological Knowledge (TEK) and expertise created within well-established regions and territories across Alaska. SERAC reviews and evaluates proposals relating to subsistence uses of fish and wildlife within the Southeast region of Alaska, and also offers critique and feedback on federal regulations that may have an impact on subsistence users.
The WECAN Delegation attended the annual SERAC meeting via teleconference and submitted a proposal calling for systemic changes to federal subsistence policies and programs, including The Alaska National Interest Lands Conservation Act (ANILCA) and the National Environmental Protection Act (NEPA), to ensure and uphold Alaska Natives’ rights to protect, harvest, gather, and hunt in their traditional forest territories. The Delegates called for recognition of the leadership, innovation, and decision-making of Indigenous women, and advocated for a delay in the current Roadless Rulemaking process due to mismanagement and oversight by the U.S. Forest Service.
Currently, The 2001 National Roadless Rule, an important measure to protect the Tongass National Forest, is undergoing a federal process to exempt over 9 million acres of old-growth forest in Alaska. In 2019, the Trump administration published a Draft Environmental Impact Statement (DEIS), proposing the repeal of Roadless Rule protections across the Tongass National Forest, which would open the region to industrial logging and mining interests, enabling further clear-cutting of old-growth forests and threatening the livelihoods of Indigenous and local communities.
The Roadless Rule has widespread support for remaining intact with more than 400,000 people and dozens of local tribal, government, business, environmental, and national recreation groups opposing the DEIS recommendations. Climate scientists agree, forests are critical for stabilizing the climate, sequestering carbon, and providing refuge for unique bio-diverse ecosystems. Maintaining the Tongass ecosystem is critical for providing solutions to United States and international climate efforts.
Alongside advocates at Earthjustice and Southeast Alaska Conservation Council (SEACC), the Delegation provided evidence to indicate that the U.S. Forest Service did not adequately address the impacts of the Roadless Rule exemption on subsistence users in the affected areas. Proper subsistence evaluation and consultation is federally required under ANILCA. The WECAN Delegation recommended SERAC advocate for an investigation into the DEIS and mismanagement by the U.S. Forest Service, and went further to call for the Roadless Rule to be made permanent in the Code of Federal Regulations.
After the Delegation’s statements, SERAC council members indicated that the council has heard overwhelming opposition to the Roadless Rule changes and looks forward to reading the WECAN Delegation’s proposal and considering how best to represent the perspectives of subsistence users in Alaska during the Roadless Rulemaking process.
For many Indigenous communities, subsistence is synonymous with culture, identity, survival and self-determination. To open up the Tongass forest to further clear-cut logging, would not only be detrimental for the forest, but also decimate salmon populations, negatively affect local economies, destroy important carbon stores, and will mean cultural genocide for the Tlingit, Haida and Tsimshian whose life-ways are deeply interwoven with the Tongass.
Quotes from WECAN Tongass Representatives:
“We are speaking out in protection of the lands our families depend upon since time began. Our cultural existence derives from the land, our names, regalia, family heirlooms all ties us to who we are and where we come from. The strength of our female bloodline carries us from the past, to now, and into the future, assuring future generational existence.
As such, we are an integral part of today’s Federal regulatory process and submit this proposal to elevate traditional ecological knowledge into the habitat and land conservation laws that directly affect our economical use of Haa Aani, our land. In our world, every living thing is a resource connected to Nature, and our prevailing law is we do not take any more than what we need, we give back and we take care. All life is intertwined. And, corporations are not people.” - Kashudoha Wanda Culp, Tlingit, WECAN Tongass Coordinator, Please see full statement here.
“We (the villages) need help, because the state of Alaska is doing everything in its power to take our identity away from the land. Alaska Native’s have been tamping down all of the misused power and hurt from industry that the state allows. It concerns me, my way of life, these federal rules affect me. Due to the oversights of the Forest Service Tongass DEIS, a delay in a final Roadless Rule should occur until proper processes have been followed. We are also advocating that the Roadless Rule needs to be made official into the Code of Federal Regulations. The Roadless Rule is being exploited! It helps keep out big companies taking over the land, it keeps small, local mom and pop shops in business, because they follow extensive environmental rules that help ensure fish and wildlife habitat are protected.
We need to keep our Tongass National Forest Standing! Think about all of the other forests that have been destroyed and burned in Brazil and Australia. We must think about the future generations.” - Rebekah Sawers, Yupik, student and WECAN Tongass Representative, please see full statement here.
“As attempts are made to strip down remaining protections and open more of the ancient Tongass forest to industrial scale logging, WECAN stands with Indigenous women leaders who are calling for the protection of the Roadless Rule and the traditions and cultural practices that are inextricably tied to these forests. At this critical time of COVID-19 and an ever worsening climate crisis, we must, now more than ever, stand side-by-side with frontline communities who are calling for Indigneous rights, food sovereignty and the defense of our natural forests, which are essential lungs of the Earth and critically needed habitat.” - Osprey Orielle Lake, Executive Director, Women’s Earth and Climate Action Network (WECAN) International
The Women's Earth and Climate Action Network (WECAN) International
www.wecaninternational.org - @WECAN_INTL
The Women’s Earth and Climate Action Network (WECAN) International is a 501(c)3 and solutions-based organization established to engage women worldwide in policy advocacy, on-the-ground projects, trainings, and movement building for global climate justice.