“Got Salmon on my mind (as usual). My excitement, as we begin to look toward Salmon Season, is coupled with a little dread,” says Deenaalee Hodgdon.
Deenaalee is one of the incredible human beings born of the Dene People Deg Xit’an Dene and Sugpiaq Peoples. Deg Xit’an Dené/Sugpiaq. They are an enrolled member of the Tribe of Anvik and a shareholder of Doyon, Limited and Bristol Bay Native Corporation fisherwoman working in Bristol Bay, Alaska. They are a leader in their community, and they have been carrying on the fight to protect their waters, their fish, and the land of their ancestors.
Every year, roughly 40-50 million salmon make an epic journey from the open ocean to the waters of Bristol Bay. Bristol Bay is located at the easternmost arm of the Bering Sea and sits at 400km long and 290km wide. It’s home to many wildlife species, including great numbers of wild salmon. The salmon provide sustenance to both humans and wildlife. Bristol Bay’s salmon supplies around 50% of the world’s commercial supply of wild sockeye salmon. This resource generates more than a billion dollars for the Alaskan economy and employs over 14,000 fishery workers. It is the largest and most lucrative wild salmon fishery in the world.
The health and sustainability of Deenaalee’s home, of Bristol Bay and its incredible salmon resource, are facing tandem threats – mining and climate change. The land and it’s waters are threatened by the proposed Pebble Mine. In November 2020, the US Army Corps of Engineers denied a federal permit to begin building the mine. The permit was rejected as being non-compliant with the Clean Water Act. This was a small, celebrated victory for the many tribes, fishermen, local communities, and environmentalists who have been fighting this battle for 13 years. But they know all too well that this region is not fully protected from future mining endeavors. The area still lies in threat evidenced by the fact that just last month, on January 25, 2021, an appeal was filed by Pebble Limited Partnership (PLP) challenging the permit denial. The proposed mine has lived many lives over the course of the last 13 years. Though the permit was rejected in November, due diligence and permanent protection of the Bristol Bay watershed is necessary for long-term sustainability. We know this battle isn’t over because our land and waters continue to be raped by the hands of greed.
In the summer you will find Deenaalee working on a boat in the Alaskan waters, hawling in those fish that we love to eat. They know all too well that climate change presents ever increasing challenges in this area. “The hot weather we faced in 2019 caused salmon to go belly up in our bays and rivers. It is estimated that anywhere between 100,000- 200,000 salmon passed away while trying to return to their spawning grounds across Bristol Bay and in the Kuskokwim. With climate change comes sea rising temperatures and fish, particularly salmon become dazed and confused at around 70F. While I look forward to being out on the water with my stellar crew again, I wonder what we will witness? To what temperature will the water rise too? When will the salmon return and in what numbers? Will my fellow commercial fishermen recognize the extent to which we need to have a real conversation about the impacts of climate change on the watershed, the fish, and Indigenous Lifeways?” says Deenaalee.
For Deenaalee, their waters and the land are everything. They live and breathe them. They run in their veins alongside the strength of their ancestors. As they wander the mountains, hunting or hiking, as they traverse the waters, fishing or exploring, they embody the spirit and power of their People. Deenaalee is strengthened by the knowledge that they follow the same journey as their ancestors. Their ancestors fished these waters and sought to live in harmony with the land. They too fought to protect their four-legged and water cousins from invaders, the colonizers. One sees the journey in their eyes, through their swift movement on water, and the pounding of their feet as they gracefully play with their pup. They are home and their ancestors embrace them fiercely.