The Yupik Legend Fish War
By Kat Haber
Yupik Legend: “Once a man had a fish, but his neighbor had none.”
They did not claim to know why they had it all, only noticing that as global communications pulled together the family of man, ever tighter, they became aware of the other who had none. So it is at the dawning of our moment of awakening that they are we and we are everywhere and what is chosen here ripples its affect over there.
There-there’s an intriguing concept. Where is there? Is it the 20 mile wide open pit gold mine on the other side of the Bristol Bay? There are pebbles there, even a proposed Pebble Gold Mine. Is the salmon stream where life begins and ends for those salmon? Is it the place where the mine waste will be stored? Or is it the store where that mined ore will be designed, polished, marketed and sold? Is there the gold ringed finger and why the next generation will have no clean water for the salmon over there? Is there the watershed poisoned from greed?
Canadian environmentalist, David Suzuki claims that, “We have failed to ask the important questions. Are there no limits? How much is enough? There is no there out there, there is no environment out there. We are the environment Our species has become a force of nature.” Is our species capable of collectively acting for the mutual survival of all species? Or has the balance within become so skewed in self-interest now that harmony can not be restored?
And if that man who had the fish had shared with his neighbor, then would they both had had some? If, then. If I have one and you have none, shall I share so we both can live? Could it be possible for me to take it all and leave you with none? What are the if’s and or but’s when it comes to the policy about that fish then? Senator Begich makes a tough plea for the better balance for all Alaskans, fish, America’s food security, to end the Fish War before it gets inflamed. How much is enough? Nobody has the answer, we are all living in that question. Is the most effective regulator the price of gas rather than the limit or allotment set?
Then-then’s an intriguing concept. Then if all the fish spawning places are taken for gold, what will remain for those who come later? Then is the come uppence. Then is the time of reckoning. But not for the generation which trades fish for gold. Then is the response by the first people to live and thrive on this land, before the capitalists eyed its bottom line without regard for future generations. If they take it now, just a little, then my heart shall scream in weeping throbs no not this one, not here, not ever.
Where-where’s an intriguing concept. Where is the tank I can stand in front of and the TV crew to witness my fall? Where are the fingers I would have begged release their shiny bands of gold for that fish, that one beautifully rainbowed fish which would still swim up the Koktuli or Upper Tularik or Alagnak Rivers? That stream of millions of salmon, steady flow of black gold forever, escaping the anglers hook, escaping the diggers, where instead they may turn to death trains of toxic fish. Where is the line between respecting the resource and enjoying the resource? There are those who say even catch and release is not respecting the wellness of the fish.
Those Fishing Faces of Homer are fighting now. Each for their stake of the schools. Not for life long learning schools, but rather for life sustaining business rules. The big fish eats the little fish. And it is the little fish which must school together to have a chance of survival. it is here, too, in Homer. The charter fisherman demand representation by their Chamber to change wording in a letter to reflect an allotted share that will ensure their business survival. But that school of fish is not respected. They are long lined to more than a million and a half pounds of waste, allotments of life and death. It is the commercial fisherman who sit on the council which decides. Even bound together in a choir singing what about us, charter fisherman voices will lack the strength to persuade the other side. This same chorus is being sung globally for every resource humans take from Earth. Once a group had enough fish, but the other had none.
Then where fish swim in those rivers is where my son bonds with his father, is where they speak of girls and golf, and the great one that got away. They report on the getting and having. What if it was how kind and how much you help others that really mattered? The stories of the moose, and bear, and banks-not the banks where gold is stored, but rather banks they climb and escape from mama bear protecting her cubs. Banks eroding and banks exploding with fall colors and running waters and broad shoulders. Where the fish swims is the treasure. Where the fish spawn is the treasure of life beginning once again. Where the fish swim my boys laugh and so I am happy. They are content. There is no fighting for these fish, simply the joy of the catch, or the tasty appreciation for there great good abundance.
There, then, where they fight in fish wars. Commercial versus charter. Multi nationals versus ancients. Corporations versus tribes. Subsistence versus sport. neighbor versus neighbor. Precautionarily, what I really want to know is, “Who speaks for the fish?”