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Testimony

Submitted to the
Alaska Natives Commission
Social/Cultural Task Force at

Ft. Yukon, Alaska
June 9, 1993

ALASKA NATIVES COMMISSION
JOINT FEDERAL-STATE COMMISSION
ON
POLICIES AND PROGRAMS AFFECTING ALASKA NATIVES
4000 Old Seward Highway, Suite 100
Anchorage, Alaska 99503

TABLE OF CONTENTS

Witness List | PDF Version

 

MR. EATON: Irene.

MS. NICHOLI: Oh.

MR. EATON: Quit writing and start talking (laughter). Representative Nicholi.

MS. NICHOLI: Mm-hm (affirmative).

TESTIMONY OF IRENE NICHOLI

MS. NICHOLI: The first issue that I'd like to talk about is subsistence. And our subsistence activities that is practiced by the people who reside in rural communities is a vital part of our lifestyle and culture.

The State of Alaska, Alaska Department of Fish and Game Department (indiscernible) thousands of dollars because they're not in compliance with ANILCA. The loss of dollars presents problems for our local Fish and Game advisory committee members as they travel to the Board of Fish and -- Board of Game meetings, and it means loss of support for providing vital information for the proposals that are sent from our villages.

It is very important that message is sent to the Department of Interior Administration in Washington, D.C. that they are not to make any changes to ANILCA without the approval from the Native people of Alaska. As I know that there are some people in the state of Alaska that would like to see changes. And they're not the changes that the Native people want.

They like to -- they -- there are people in Alaska that don't like for rural people to have the priority for subsistence. And I think that it is very important that the rural people have a priority, because they depend on the moose and big game tor their survival. It is -- it's not a game that they play. It's not a sport to them. To them, when they go out and hunt for moose and caribou and other big game animals, it's for survival. It's for their food. It's food on the table for their children.

The other issue that I think is -very important that the federal government needs to do is to work with the village councils' Fish and Game committees and other village or community organizations to protect and preserve our trapping rights. Like it was said, there are organizations in Europe and other countries that would like to see that our trapping lifestyles are not used anymore or utilized. And it is important for our economy that they are able to go out and trap for the fur.

And they don't always trap to sell the fur, but they also use the fur for their clothing. And I know that there is an uprising in Alaska right now where people aren't happy with that type of lifestyle that we lead. The other issue that I would like to talk about is alcohol and drug abuse. I know that there -- that it that does exist in our local communities. It is a problem. There is no enforcement. People don't like to turn in their friends or their relatives. But I think it is time that people come forward and do so because we are seeing the results. We are -- it's -- you don't see the babies that are born from F -- that are born with FAS deformities and -- because they're taken away from the mothers when they are born. And so the public doesn't -- they -- the public doesn't get to see those children. But they're there.

Just being in Juneau, I've heard a lot of stories, I've had people come down from the villages and the larger communities and talk about those children. And it's really sad. And then when you look at the pictures, it is even sadder. And I think that we need to put more funding into villages and village organizations to get them to -- started on prevention,

I think that when you put money into organizations in the urban areas and then send them out to the villages, that's not going to work. I think that when you put the money into the local communities and have them work on the issue and work with the people, it's going to have more meaning. And that people from the urban areas should not dictate to the people in the villages, but come out and live with them for a while and work with them, and they'll listen.

It is a problem here in Alaska. We have the highest rate of alcoholism and highest rates of drug abuse. And this is not good for the future of our -- of Alaska for -- -- it's not good for our children and their survival.

And you also spoke about the students in schools. You know, it's really hard to determine if they are FAS and FAE. It's such -- it's a new disease that is finally getting known. It's probably been around here for years and years, but they're finally coming out and helping with it, and it s hard to diagnose those students. Because it could be a number of other things that could be wrong with them. But we do need to have that addressed in every school.

And there needs to be a program developed. They are starting to develop these programs, but they need to be developed and there needs to be more money put in for their development.

I'd like to talk about...let's see, what else can we talk about here. I didn't see the list of what else you can talk about here.

MR. EATON: On the notice, notice of meeting? Cultural and....

MS. NICHOLI: Cultural activities. That's another thing I'd like to talk about is cultural activities, is -- -we have lost a lot of our languages. The Koyukon language is currently only spoken by people that are about 50 years and older. And that's the truth, and it's very sad. I'd like to see more of these programs put into the schools where the elders can teach languages, and the elders are given teaching certificates.

I would like to see it required in the schools. Because you can give the suggestion to the school board members to have the language taught in the schools, but rarely do you see that the language are taught in our schools. It's not required in Fairbanks or Anchorage. You probably get Japanese or Russian or Spanish. But you won't see a Native language in their curriculum. I think that it needs to be instituted before our language is lost.

Our language is a vital part of our lifestyle for the Native people. It's a link to the past. Because I took a language course last -- not this past semester, but the first semester, the fall semester, from the University of Alaska, which was taught by Eliza Jones (ph.). And I learned a lot of the Koyukon language. But more importantly, she told us stories every week in the Athabascan language. And there is a English interpretation (indiscernible) and the Athabascan language. And you learn most of those words, and then to listen in Athabascan was just enriching. Because, you know, it was even funnier. You know, you'd -- she read us funny stories, you know, that made you laugh and stuff. And it meant more when you understood it. And I think that if you teach our young children their Athabascan language in the schools, they'll be able to enjoy things like that, and they can come to these conferences and understand our elders when they do speak.

And another part of the culture is the Native singing and dancing. You don't -- you rarely see any of that anymore. In some communities, it's very -- oh, it's a large part of their lifestyle. But there are villages where they don't even sing anymore. I'd like to see funding for that be established. I know Murkowski was working on the Native language funding, but he also needs to put more funding into the Native dancing and Native singing. Because the music that they provide is very beautiful when you're listening to it. Earlier today at the elders conference, I heard Katherine Peters (ph.) sing a song, a song that she learned a long time ago. St was a church song, and she sang it very beautifully and it was so mellow. And it made you just relax. And I think everybody enjoyed it. But it is people like her that are the only ones that can really sing now.

We have a Native dance group in Tanana. But we only know about eight songs, eight or nine songs. And that's really sad, because it's fun -- it's really a great feeling to go out there and dance with the members of our group and sing those songs, and it makes us feel so proud. If you ever go to Tanana, you'll see about 50 or 60 young people out there dancing. And only singing those eight or nine songs. But to go -- to be together and sing is a healing part of our life.

The times that when we sing are at potlatches. And most of the time when we have potlatches is for somebody that died. And usually when somebody dies it's really hard on a family. And so then they -- what they do is they bury a person and then they go and they have a potlatch. After everybody eats, then everybody sits around and gets ready to sing. And when that -- and everybody just has a great time singing and going around in a circle (indiscernible), and just being together. And that really helps the families out a lot.

But I know that there is a lot of songs that are being lost in our culture. There's washtub songs and songs that were made for people and made for great people. There's songs that were made for chiefs that are being lost. Every song that is sung has a story about something or someone. That is a very important part of our culture.

And the other part of our culture is the basket making, the canoe making, working with birchbark. Those are being lost. The last time that I saw a birchbark canoe made in Tanana was 1974. And that canoe was made in what they called survival school. Survival school is what the Tanana Chiefs Conference used to have for our youth. I was a youth at that time in that survival camp. And I'd like to see more camps like that around the Interior or around --

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE SPEAKER: Off record.

(Tape changed - Tape 5, Side 1)

MS. NICHOLI: They may be our future leaders, and they can help us.

And I think that's about all that I have to say today. But thank you for listening to me. Thank you.

MR. EATON: Any questions?

FATHER ELLIOTT: I do have one question. You mentioned about subsistence and the need for that to be available in the rural communities because people do put meat on the table through their hunting. But there is another approach to subsistence which has also been brought out, and that is a Native preference in order that people Native people living in Fairbanks and Anchorage would also have an opportunity to go and hunt under a subsistence. What are your comments on that? Because this is not just rural, this is urban too.

MS. NICHOLI: Right. When I first heard about the Native priority, I supported it. I felt that was a -- -the way to go.

FATHER ELLIOTT: Mm-hm (affirmative).

MS. NICHOLI: And realistically and politically, I don't think that that will be a reality unless there is a different administration in the State of Alaska. Currently, the state -- Alaska state administration would not even give us the rural priority that we went and seeked for last summer, during the subsistence legislation session.

We tried to get that and the Republicans were adamant in not giving us that priority. And there was no support from the Governor. So I think that in the future, maybe there might be a possibility. But right now with this administration, thatís not going to happen.

FATHER ELLIOTT: Thank you.

MS. NICHOLI: But I do support it.

 

This document was ocr scanned. We have made every attempt to keep the online document the same as the original, including the recorder's original misspellings or typos.

 
 

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Last modified July 27, 2011