Story last updated at 2:37 p.m. Thursday, April 18, 2002

Natives add their perspective
by Sepp Jannotta
Staff Writer

The science-to-science exchange that occurred during the Kachemak Bay Science Conference was augmented Saturday by a heartfelt presentation of historic and contemporary ecological observations from the perspective of Alaska Natives.

In a 90-minute talk, a seven members of a panel representing the three Native communities across Kachemak Bay shared their thoughts and concerns on the future of the subsistence way of life on the lower Kenai Peninsula.

With close to 240 people gathered to hear the talk on "indigenous knowledge," the session was the best-attended event of the conference, said Kachemak Bay Research Reserve biologist Carmen Field.

The panelists presented the scientists with their own empirical data.

"It seems because this area is more populated, we have to go further and further to do our hunting and gathering," said Herman Moonin Jr. of Port Graham, who has been fishing Kachemak Bay and Cook Inlet for 30 years.

Lillian Elvsaas and Sabrina Volstad pointed to the gradual closing of all the Seldovia canneries.

The Port Graham elders say the bears have less fat than they once did and villagers have noticed more salmon sharks in the bay and less snow in the mountains, Nick Tanape said.

There was much concern over the effects of habitat degradation.

"What has our timber cutting done to the long-term health of our air, water and game?" Port Graham's Pat Norman wondered.

Moonin said Port Graham villagers often wonder about the effects oil-industry discharges into Cook Inlet might be having on a food chain they rely so heavily on.

"My concern is not so much the decrease or increase of the animals," Norman said. "But what are they eating, that concerns me greatly."

With the atmosphere during two days of Mariner Theatre presentations often punctuated with audible reaction from the audience, a profound silence arose when moderator Violet Yeaton of Port Graham ended the session by quoting a passage from an article written by the late village chief Walter Meganack, who, in response to the 1989 Exxon Valdez oil spill, wrote:

"The land and the water are our sources of life. The water is sacred. The water is like a baptismal fountain and its abundance is the Holy Communion of our lives. Of all the things we have lost through the years, we have never lost our connection with the water. The water is our source of life. So long as the water is alive, Chugach Natives are alive."