“When Global Warming Kills Your God,” 23 Yup’ik Men Defying a Fishing Ban for Their Traditional Beliefs

This well-written article (link) paints a powerful picture about the devastating impact that a warming climate is having on Alaska Natives. Cited is the fact that an estimated 86% of Alaska Native villages will require relocation over the next 50 years because of climate changes.

In addition, the article looks at the case of 23 tribal members who were punished for defying a fishing ban. Briefs available here. Their case will be heard in the Alaska Court of Appeals, possibly sometime this summer. According to the article, “the fishermen’s civil disobedience has been framed as a First Amendment issue: The Yup’ik believe they have an obligation to continue their ancestral traditions.” In an amicus brief, the ACLU stated

A Yup’ik fisherman who is a sincere believer in his religious role as a steward of nature, believes that he must fulfill his prescribed role to maintain this ‘collaborative reciprocity’ between hunter and game. Completely barring him from the salmon fishery thwarts the practice of a real religious belief. Under Yup’ik religious belief, this cycle of interplay between humans and animals helped perpetuate the seasons; without the maintaining of that balance, a new year will not follow the old one.

While the trial judge appeared sympathetic, he still felt the state had sufficient reason for imposing the ban. It will be interesting to see how the court of appeals deals with this defense, particularly under current changing conditions.

There, [in the Court of Appeals] state-appointed judges will grapple with the same question the court faced in 1979, when an indigenous hunter named Carlos Frank was charged with illegally transporting a newly slain moose. Frank argued that he had needed the animal for a religious ceremony. Two lower courts found him guilty, but the Alaska Supreme Court reversed the verdict, calling moose meat “the sacramental equivalent to the wine and wafer in Christianity.”

This, in the end, is what’s at stake for the Yup’ik fishermen. Their villages may be swallowed up by the sea, but the people themselves won’t float away. They’ll relocate en masse or drift into the urban diaspora of Anchorage. But if they stop fishing king salmon, the Yup’ik believe they’ll lose something far more fundamental than their homes.

H/T to TH.

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