Subsistence and Gates of the Arctic
Anchorage Museum of Art and History
Today, as in the past, many Alaskans live off the land, relying on fish, wildlife and plants. Alaska Natives have used these subsistence resources for food, shelter, clothing, transportation, handicrafts and trade for thousands of years. Subsistence, and all it entails, is critical to sustaining both the physical and spiritual culture of Alaska Native peoples. It is an important tradition for many non-Natives as well. Helga Eakon, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service Interagency Coordinator, describes the Alaska Native relationship to the land this way:
Subsistence is a way that Native peoples of Alaska have preserved their cultures. This way of life is not confined to the land. It stretches out to the sky and the waters and rivers. The creatures of the earth give themselves to the people, who in turn share with family and friends, shaping relationships that celebrate life.
When the first Europeans visited Alaska's shores during the 1740s, all the local residents they met were living a subsistence lifestyle. As the population grew through the territorial days, many new and conflicting demands were made on Alaska's natural and cultural resources. Development in various forms-harvesting marine and inland furbearers, commercial fisheries, mining operations, agriculture, development of military bases, and the establishment of cities and towns-often impacted local resources and subsistence activities. By the time Alaska gained statehood in 1959, subsistence patterns in some of Alaska's more populated areas had been greatly affected.
NPS photo by Penny Knuckles
When Representative Morris Udall and others were writing the Alaska National Interest Lands Conservation Act during the 1970s, they recognized the importance of people's connections to the land and their need to harvest subsistence resources. As a result, the architects of the lands act included Title VIII to protect subsistence needs of rural Alaskans. The wording of Title VIII reveals the unusual conditions of life in Alaska's rural areas:
The Congress finds and declares that-
(1) the continuation of the opportunity for subsistence uses by rural residents of Alaska, including both Natives and non-Natives, on the public lands and by Alaska Natives on Native lands is essential to Native physical, economic, traditional, and cultural existence and to non-Native physical, economic, traditional, and social existence;
(2) the situation in Alaska is unique in that, in most cases, no practical alternative means are available to replace the food supplies and other items gathered from fish and wildlife which supply rural residents dependent on subsistence uses.
Subsistence Resource Commissions (SRCs) have been established for most national parks and monuments in Alaska to provide meaningful participation and involvement of local subsistence users in planning and management decisions. The commission for Gates of the Arctic National Park and Preserve has designated eleven "resident zone communities" in the vicinity of the park that have special privileges regarding subsistence within park boundaries. These communities are Nuiqsut, Wiseman, Anaktuvuk Pass, Bettles, Evansville, Allakaket, Alatna, Hughes, Kobuk, Shungnak, and Ambler.
For more detailed information about SRC efforts in Alaska see this brief: SRC briefMarch2012.pdf
Read more about subsistence in Alaska's national parks in the Alaska National Parks Subsistence brochure.
Did You Know?
Humans have lived on and off the land in Gates of the Arctic National Park and Preserve for more than 12,500 years.