Fighting For Our Subsistence Rights
Calista Assistant General Counsel Curt Chamberlain
Storyknife, November/December 2023 edition
On Friday, Oct. 20, Calista’s Assistant General Counsel Curt Chamberlain joined four other Calista Shareholders who addressed the Alaska Federation of Natives on our Region’s subsistence crisis. The following is a transcript of Curt’s remarks to AFN. Many thanks to Director Myron Naneng, Jonathan Samuelson, Mike Williams, and Bev Hoffman, who also spoke to AFN on our salmon crisis.
Good afternoon, my name is Curt Chamberlain. I’m assistant general counsel for corporate governance and litigation for Calista Corporation. Prior to being an attorney, my family lived off the land in Aniak in the middle Kuskokwim. The salmon crash in 1994 made my way of life unsustainable and I had to go to college to become a lawyer. If given the choice between being an attorney and living my Traditional lifestyle, I would trade in this suit to be on that river any day.
Subsistence is the lifeblood for Alaska Native people. It is much more than a food source. It’s the glue that holds our economy, our food chain, and culture together. For our people, subsistence is both food and an economic driver. Subsistence fed not only our family but also our community’s elderly and disabled. Today the Y-K region not only has one of the highest unemployment and poverty rates in the nation, but also the highest costs of living. Due to the rural nature and lack of infrastructure, relying on our stores for food sources is unsustainable for many of our residents. Since we couldn’t afford fuel for the winter, fish fed our dog teams so we could travel, trap, hunt, gather wood, and fish.
With the crash of the salmon, our region lost one of its largest economies and its economic independence. A traditionally cashless society was forced to rapidly find funds to survive, leading to a large outmigration from our region.
After decades of failed and broken promises, we urge Alaska’s State and Federal policy makers to recognize and protect Alaska Native rights to subsistence uses of fish and game. We ask that they act quickly to stop the physical and cultural starvation of our people.Curt Chamberlain, Calista Corp. Assistant General Counsel
Fishing policies have long favored coastal commercial fisheries. Bycatch and overfishing in intercept fisheries capture salmon bound for the Yukon and Kuskokwim rivers. Billions of hatchery salmon flood the Gulf of Alaska with fish that compete against and further decimate wild stocks for our region. As a result, Alaska has seen the largest decline of salmon in the Yukon and Kuskokwim rivers since statehood, with no effective measures in effect to protect the rural subsistence priority.
When Congress extinguished much of Alaska Natives’ land bases and clouded aboriginal hunting and fishing rights in ANCSA, Congress plainly explained that lawmakers expected the Secretary of Interior to protect the subsistence rights of Alaska Natives. The original form of ANILCA included a subsistence priority, but after Alaska’s objection, this was replaced with a rural subsistence priority, before Alaskan courts ultimately ruled this unconstitutional.
After decades of failed and broken promises, we urge Alaska’s State and Federal policy makers to recognize and protect Alaska Native rights to subsistence uses of fish and game. We ask that they act quickly to stop the physical and cultural starvation of our people.