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Mary Pete Testifies on Climate Change Impacts on Subsistence at Senate Field Hearing - 8/19/10
08/25/2010 | Marilyn Sigman, Alaska SeaGrant/MAP
Tags: Climate Change, Alaska Native Perspectives on Climate Change, Arctic Ocean, Traditional Knowledge Changes in Alaska Marine Ecosystems

Mary Pete, recently appointed to the U.S. Arctic Research Commission to represent indigenous perspectives and to focus on anthropology, subsistence, and education; testified at a Senate field hearing on the implications for federal resources and local communities of a changing Arctic. The hearing was held in Barrow, Alaska, on August 19, 2010 by the Senate Committee on Commerce, Science, and Transportation. Pete’s testimony focused on the serious, real-time impacts on subsistence resources and subsistence users of climate change.

She testified that “Subsistence resources are affected by changes in the climate of the Arctic. Our subsistence resources, which form the backbone of our traditional cultural practices, are changing—the places and times where we have hunted and gathered for thousands of years are no longer the same.”

She cited higher than usual temperatures that are becoming more common, more extreme weather events, winter storm surges that are eroding coastlines, washing out roads, and making travel difficult; dangerous or impossible conditions for hunting on the ice due to early breakup and late freeze-up, damage from floods due to increased vulnerability to storms with reduced ice extent, changes in the quality of animals such as thin blubber on seals, lack of haul-out ice platforms for seals and walruses (a problem for the species and for hunter access),changes in the composition, distribution, and density of subsistence species; changes in fisheries with changes in ocean circulation, currents, water temperatures, ice coverage and
nutrient availability.

She also testified that “Changes and interruptions are (also) occurring in the passing of traditional ecological knowledge (TEK). Health and cultural activities of Alaskan Native peoples will be harmed by a decline in subsistence practices. Subsistence diets are rich in fish and marine and land mammals and offer numerous health, social, cultural, and economic benefits. Proven health benefits include protection from cardiovascular disease and diabetes and improved maternal nutrition and neonatal and infant brain development. With the cost of a pound of ground beef upwards of $10, and little or no available fresh produce in many villages, there are also serious economic and health implications related to a decline in subsistence practices that may result from climate change."

"Subsistence is a key component of our cultural traditions. Separation of Alaska Natives from our cultural traditions may lead to feelings of decreased self-worth and foster substance abuse, violence, and suicide. It is important to protect subsistence cultural traditions."

"To understand the dynamics of climate change and subsistence harvest and use, there needs to be greater emphasis and coordination of research among the agencies. The need for research is two-fold. First, to understand traditional ways of knowing and action, agencies must collaborate with indigenous Arctic populations—to establish a baseline of understanding of topics such as where berries grow, when and where ice develops, and the thickness of seal blubber and caribou skins. I note that there is a wealth of this type of information at the Division of Subsistence, Alaska Department of Fish and Game. The division is charged with providing information to ensure that the state implements the subsistence priority law. To understand how subsistence resources are changing while providing for validation of indigenous knowledge, agencies should conduct research in collaboration with tribal groups. Only after we understand how subsistence resources are changing can the most effective policies be developed for protecting subsistence traditions.”

Her testimony concluded with specific policy recommendations. Her written testimony is available on the website of the U.S. Arctic Research Commission.

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