Archive for the ‘hunting’ tag
Becoming an Outdoor Woman (BOW) Weekend out in Chickaloon:
I spent the glorious weekend of March 12th-14th with 4 other friends and 200-some other women out in Chickaloon, Alaska at a retreat sponsored by the Alaska Dept. of Fish and Game, with support from other corporations and orgs, including the NRA (*chuckle*). As you can see in the picture on the left, I learned to field dress game. My best friend Jessica Laura (picture on top) from Santa Cruz, CA and I learned gun safety, loading, unloading, aiming, etc. She, my roommate and dear friend Tiffany (bottom pic), and I all learned fish filleting skills. Our friends Mel and Kiatcha also did tracking, trapping, snowmachining and other workshops.
It was loads of fun and it was empowering as an Alaskan woman to be equipped with skills that could help me feed my future family. Oscar and I are always talking about the things we want to grow & ways we want to eat as a family once we get a place; this made me think through the logistics of including wild animals into that diet. It was beautiful to spend a weekend with so many women, many of whom explained that they were learning skills their husbands wouldn’t teach them or that they’d prefer to learn from better teachers. And I soaked in the opportunity to develop and strengthen friendships.
This weekend also exposed me to the politics of hunting in Alaska in a new way. When we first moved to Alaska in 1992, little ten-year-old Californian Laura thought hunting was barbaric. 12 – 15-year-old vegetarian Laura certainly did. But when I started to eat meat again, I figured I should be able to kill it myself, and so I enjoyed fishing and thanking the fish for their lives. I’ve wanted to hunt now for a number of years, a desire especially influenced by knowing more Alaska Native people who tell me about their son learning to duck hunt at age 3 or their experiences growing up and preparing the beaver & moose meat. It has been influenced by reading Velma Wallis’ heartbreakingly honest memoir Raising Ourselves: A Coming of Age Story from the Yukon River, Ernestine Haye’s Blonde Indian: An Alaska Native Memoir, the book Eagle Blue by journalist Michael D’Orso about the Fort Yukon Boys basketball team, and the interviews in Growing up Native in Alaska. The relationship that these books describe people having to the earth and to the animals is one of such respect and necessity that it begins to seem less like a choice and more like part of the life cycle. On a more superficial level, my desire to hunt was also influenced by trying dall sheep meat for the first time years ago, when my dad made an Afghani rice pilaf with sheep koftas after a patient of my mom’s sent her home with a chunk of meat. It was delicious.
Yet, being out there for BOW and learning the skills to be a better fisher and hunter, I was struck by the incongruence between the way I had come to think of hunting through Alaska Native narratives, and the culture of it among some of the folks there. There were, indeed, people who saw it as a means to eat well and eat sustainably, and who strove to preserve and use as much of the animal as they could. Fish and Game promoted this attitude, for the most part. But, as Kiatcha bore witness to in her trapping class, there is also a culture of people who want to wear fox fur hats and lynx stolls and ermine coats–not in the way described in Eagle Blue where the kids must wear beaver hats to get through the -50 degree weather in Fort Yukon and they eat the beaver meat anyway–but in what I perceive as a colonialist way. It strikes me as very 18th and 19th century European colonialist, Russians-forcing-Aleuts-to-trap-Otters-for-fur and very un-self-conscious to, in this day and age, trap animals just for their fur and not eat them.
I also got the feeling–although the rules of the weekend were that we could not talk politics–that there were hunters there who do not believe in rural preference and giving priority to subsistence and to Alaska Natives. In fact, the entire absence of mention of subsistence rights and Alaska Native approaches to hunting made me uncomfortable. Hunting and fishing may be part of a sustainable life in Alaska, as Elaine Frankenstein argues in her film “Eating Alaska” (which we watched and which I enjoyed thoroughly), but it seems to me that how we do that should be influenced not only by the Dept. of Fish and Game, but by AFN and/or other Native organizations who know what the needs are of people in the villages. As a white person and as an immigrant to this land, I don’t feel comfortable making those decisions without that kind of input.
So…it was odd to be there. On the one hand, I felt RIGHT filleting fish after fish and cleaning clams and unzipping the reindeer, skinning him, removing his front quarter, opening his abdominal cavity, holding his heart. I felt like I was born to do this. It felt spiritually important, like this is the part that has been missing from the 16 years that I’ve been cooking, like I’m supposed to provide food in this way. And I adored the instructors of the filleting and field dressing classes. I also really liked using the guns. But I was also weirded out by the enthusiasm of the gun class instructors about youth shotgun leagues and by the woman in Kiatcha and Mel’s classes who was gleeful and almost sadistic about killing animals, and by the snowmachine instructor with her giant wedding ring who taught us how to put on our helmets so that our hair wouldn’t get messed up, and by the whole idea of a sport that uses two stroke engines (although I do admit, it was fun).
The experience certainly helped me understand the cultures within Alaska that I don’t know as well, part of the electorate who my mother is trying to win over (she’s running for State House in East Anchorage: www.barbaranortonforstatehouse.com), and the varied approaches to eating Alaska. And yeah, it made me want to go to the range and learn to shoot, maybe even invest in a .22 someday. But it also left me with a lot of questions, a desire to push that kind of (primarily white) environment to listen to the perspectives of the original inhabitants of this land on how to harvest from it, and a need to learn a lot more about sustainability before I begin hunting.