As Inuit and other Indigenous peoples from across the globe assert their right to have a direct say in the fast-approaching Sept. 23 UN Food Systems Summit, survival and a way of life for those in Yup’ik villages along the Yukon and Kuskokwim rivers are on the brink of unprecedented collapse. The real backdrop of the forthcoming Summit is the total lack of understanding and recognition of the distinct food systems of our people across Inuit Nunaat – our homelands of Chukotka, Alaska, Canada and Greenland.
The lack of a keystone cultural species is now being felt most acutely by the Yup’ik, Cup’ik and others who live along the Yukon River. As stated in the Arctic Declaration, prepared jointly by Inuit and Sami in an effort to influence the Summit, we have a profound and respectful relationship with our lands and territories and our knowledge about the environment has accumulated through countless generations. Our ability to be healthy depends upon a healthy environment. As western scientists have noted, something is amiss. And, it is having multiple adverse impacts upon us and our environment.
Significantly, our governance and stewardship, proven sustainable practices, ownership, decision-making power and management, which are all connected to our food security and food sovereignty, have gone unheeded by state and federal government decision-makers. Purportedly, “subsistence” is the priority use of resources across Alaska. However, the present powers that be more often act in favor of industry, commercial take and the science of others. This has put our very health and wellness, and that of the entire ecosystem, at risk.
At this moment, calories and nutrients are crucial, but all must understand that the impacts are much larger, especially in relation to the UN Food Systems Summit “tracks” identified and advanced by scientists. Therefore, we must again affirm that our food is not just about calories or nutrients. It is a core part of our culture, identity and pride. Our food systems provide the foundation of our existence and our holistic world view. Our distinctive and profound relationship with our lands, territories, waters and coastal seas and other resources includes the understanding that we are an integral part of the environment, and our accumulated knowledge has much to offer the debate about understanding the immediate crisis being faced by our relations in southwest Alaska.
We acknowledge those openminded individuals who understand the dynamics affecting our livelihoods, homelands, and future well-being. We ask that all others respect and recognize our right of self-determination, the legitimacy of our knowledge, the crucial importance of healthy lands and waters, and the interrelated nature of our food systems – our livelihoods.
These issues cannot go unheeded by others in the present food system crisis unfolding in Southwest Alaska and, indeed, for Indigenous peoples across the globe. Whomever is credited with the quote “Never let a good crisis go to waste,” at a minimum, this crisis must be averted now and in the future. One result of this crisis may be the genuine and full embrace of the worldviews of the Indigenous peoples of Southwest Alaska.
As Vivian Korthuis has stated, “everything that happens at the United Nations has to have some relevance in our villages. It’s like a rock hitting the water and the waves of impact ripple all around. We cannot forget the rock. The rock is the villages and people in our region.” Every decision has impact. To avoid compounding this precarious state, let us hope the UN Food Systems Summit decides in favor of Indigenous peoples.
Dalee Sambo Dorough serves as Chair of the Inuit Circumpolar Council, a non-governmental organization that represents approximately 165,000 Inuit from the Russian Far East, Alaska, Canada and Greenland.
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