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Rural Alaska

Fish camp: An Alaska tradition

Norman L. Phillips Jr. is the president and CEO of Doyon Ltd., the Native regional corporation for Interior Alaska. Every summer, Phillips takes 10 days off work to live in his fish camp near Rampart, a village on the Yukon River. For Phillips, going to fish camp helps him reconnect with his culture.

In the 1950s, Rampart was a gold mining town populated by 5,000 residents. Currently, the small village acts as a residential area and a summer getaway for people who operate their families' fish camps on the river. As of the 2000 census, Rampart's population was 45.

Phillips' parents always brought him to the camp growing up, which is why he emphasizes the camp's importance to his children by bringing them every summer. Phillips, whose mother and grandmother were born in Rampart, enjoys the spiritual connection to fishing that developed from his family's past experiences at the camp. His relationship to the camp also stems from the process associated with subsistence living.

In addition, necessity motivates his visiting the camp every summer; like his relatives before him, Phillips eats the king salmon that he catches on the river throughout the subsequent winter months.

Like many other fish camp operations on the Yukon, Phillips' family does not sell their catch. They keep it for themselves and give some to friends.

In order to run a business operation, a fish camp owner needs a commercial license, something that's uncommon along the river; a recent shortage of salmon deters owners from attempting to open a business.

The Phillips' fish camp is right next to former Representative Bud Fate's fish camp. Evidently, no matter how time-consuming one's job, he still makes time to honor his culture and operate a fish camp during the summer.

Contact Thomas Levine at thomas(at)alaskadispatch.com and Andrew Rubenstein at andrew(at)alaskadispatch.com.

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