Respect

Posted on June 7, 2012

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Photo of Talarik Creek borrowed from EPA Website

As the land and rivers in Bristol Bay inspire awe, so do the people. I have had the privilege of attending two hearings in Bristol Bay conducted by the EPA for the purpose of collecting comments in regard to the draft Bristol Bay Watershed Assessment. In the process of listening to testimony being delivered I have heard many biographies; life stories that have been shaped by the land and water of Bristol Bay. The lessons taught by this land have given its people knowledge and unique intelligence that is enlightening to witness.

The Naknek meeting was so completely satisfying to be a part of because of the numbers of people who participated and contributed to the hearing process. There were people whose families have lived here for generations. There were people who came from far away to live here. And there were people who return here every year to reunite with the place. All had great stories and insight to share with the EPA.

Potluck of Subsistence Foods in Levelock at EPA Hearing

Although the community of Levelock is vastly smaller than Naknek, which naturally led to a smaller turnout, the sense of the value of the proceeding was by no means diminished. Before the meeting even started there was a message imparted through the sharing of a potluck buffet that primarily consisted of food from the land and water surrounding the village. There was a sense that the food was gladly shared and it was most certainly gladly received. I appreciate the fact that the EPA officials allowed for the potluck to become part of the agenda instead of focusing on an on time start.

Olga, a Levelock elder, provides testimony to the EPA in her native language

When the meeting began, the EPA officials started by sharing their stories and I felt that this helped to set an open and comfortable precedence for moving forward with the agenda. Elders were given the opportunity to speak first when testimony began and one woman chose to give her testimony in her native language. Her words were graciously accepted by the moderator and a fellow community member did his best to translate what she shared into English.

There were younger residents of Levelock who had obviously done their homework. They incorporated into their accounts of how important the land and waters of Bristol Bay are to them citations from the Watershed Assessment and respectfully asked the EPA to take a closer look at certain sections of the draft.

There was also a young man who spoke of his family’s spiritual connection to the land, water and animal resources that sustain the people of Bristol Bay. He expressed movingly how this connection demands the kind of respect that does not allow for the wasting of animals that have given their lives to the people. All the parts of the salmon and animals are eaten or made useful in some way.

Gusty of Levelock and the newest member of the village

The testimony section of the hearing ended with a newborn baby participating quietly as she slept in the arms of the man who spoke for her. She represented the next generation who will partake in what the land and waters of Bristol Bay will have to offer.

To follow the progress of the EPA Bristol Bay Watershed Assessment or contribute to the final product by commenting visit www.epa.gov/bristolbay.

Mel

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Posted in: Bristol Bay, Culture