Sunday, September 21, 2008

Bringing Home the Bacon - Native Style

Somewhere in the Flats: So far I have gutted over 50 ducks in an afternoon, and plucked and singed many more. In the smokehouse there's meat still to be cut up from a moose brought in yesterday, as well as dry meat curing.

As we took care of the ducks, we heard the single crack of a rifle. With no other shots following, we knew that after we finished with the ducks, we'd be cutting up another moose. Sure enough, 20 minutes after we heard the shot, nephew was back for chainsaw, tarps, rope and extra hands to help bring the moose in. In the past week, six other moose have been cut and distributed.

All of this is the result of hard work by three hunters - men who are feeding their extended family, which includes their wives and children, a number of related elders, and four single women (both with and without kids), including myself.

This is subsistence hunting - where getting sufficient food for the winter takes precedence over anything else. The men do the hunting, the women are in camp or the village - cutting and smoking or freezing meat, plucking, singeing and gutting ducks, geese and the occasional swan or crane.

One can hear the righteous cries from particular segments of the population: unfair, poaching, wasteful and so on. Many of those who would condemn the number of moose and ducks taken would be the first in line to declare that, with rising energy costs and escalating diet-related disease in Alaska Native populations, a return to subsistence should be encouraged and promoted.

Fact is, very few Alaska Natives have left the subsistence way. Another fact is current ADF&G regulations do not allow for lawful subsistence hunting, at least in the Interior.

The bag limit for ducks is 30 in possession, and for moose, its one/hunter. Sure, a hunter can hunt proxy, but only if the person is over 65 and/or disabled. Single women under 65, regardless of ability, have to go out and hunt if they want to eat moose. How practical is that?

Speaking for myself, I certainly can wield a gun, and I probably could hit something as large as a moose, but it wouldn't be pretty, it wouldn't be clean, and it would likely waste a fair amount of meat. Furthermore, most women and quite a few men aren't strong enough to handle a dead moose on their own.

It makes more sense, and it is more humane and respectful of the animal to send experienced hunters out. The kill is likely to be cleaner with fewer chances of a lost but dying animal, and the chances of spoilage are reduced because the animal will be field dressed faster. Finally, even with the addition of store-bought food, one moose and 30 ducks doesn't feed a hunter's family, let alone his relatives that depend on him.

As for wasteful, this week I counted several boned-out rib cages, backbones and rumps in the local dumpsters. The heads, minus their racks, are left in the field by non-Native hunters. In contrast, Natives value and consume all of the moose, including the organs, stomach and head.

And as far as unfair goes, well, it is hardly fair that strong, accomplished hunters that provide for their families should be called unlawful. It's way past time for real subsistence hunting to be legalized here in Alaska.

Just something I contemplated as I ate boiled moose rump cooked over camp fire.

6 comments:

Super Smooth ANDY-G said...

Powerful picture Fic. Powerful picture. There is a lot government can't regulate or understand what they can't regulate.

NeedleNoz said...

Subsistance hunting? No way - you're doing real hunting - the kind that keeps the family pantry full and helps make ends meet. My dad was a hunter - and every year we'd look forward to venison, pheasant, and quail. My cousin still sends me venison - mostly for my dogs who need the lean high protein (due to cancer), but they share. . . Good luck getting your larder filled! That's true hard work!

Ceol Mo Cridhe said...

I'm curious about two things - and you can tell me to go hang if you want. I won't mind. Are you native? I only ask because I haven't thought so from reading your blog for a long time, but this post makes me think maybe yes. Secondly, you say Natives take all, including the head. Is this only true of moose? When I was in a northern village this summer, and caribou hunting was going on, they left ALL the heads and racks of the bou right there - head up towards the sky as, I gathered, a spiritual tradition. I was surprised no one took the racks, but then realized, when you can hunt as many as you and your families, elders, extended, otherwise, might need for food, every year, year after year, what use would you have for all the racks. But I'm curious as to your take on this, if you are native.

CabinDweller said...

Needlenoz? Uh, are saying that subsistence is not real hunting? I am confused.

CabinDweller said...

Ceol, there are two of us who write here at FBHB. Neither of us is Alaskan Native.

Sometimes we get a little sloppy with language and make reference to Alaskan Natives as a group ... but there are so many different cultures, and different practices and attitudes. And there are differences between the various cultures (Inupiaq, Yupik, etc.) at the regional and village level.

I believe Flic was in either the Koyukon or Gwichin part of the state.

FlictheBic said...

Well, and I would also add, even though I authored the blog, that I dont consider living off the land (or subsistence as it is legally considered) to be an exclusively Alaska Native or indigenous practice. There are many who - throughout the United States and elsewhere - have practiced subsistence - either principally or combined with small scale agriculture. I can think of many groups of people - including Maine lobster men (who value seal meat highly) as well as midwest rural people who combined famil farms with deer, elk and bird hunting. In this case, though, CabinDweller is right - I was in Interior Alaksa, was speaking specifically to Interior residents and specifically about moose. And in this state, subsistence is largley seen as a F&G issue that predominantly, but by no means exclusively, concerns Alaska Natives.