Hanging out with walrus hunters in Oregon

I’m at an Open Space conference in Grande Ronde, Oregon which is a summit of Tribal leaders and federal government agencies from around the Pacific Northwest of the USA, and Alaska.  The subject of the meeting is improving relations around environmental issues.

As we were wrapping up our action planning session this morning, a young man walked into the room who I hadn’t yet met.  He apologized for being late.  He got delayed on the way in.

“No problem,” I said.  “What was the delay all about?”

“Oh, I live near Nome Alaska and we were out hunting.  Got a bearded seal and a walrus.  They’re about 45 miles offshore on some ice floes and it took us a while to get them back.  I’ve got to get back and get it dried and frozen and then go out and get a beluga.  Some good open water now and the whales are only a mile off shore.”

I just looked at him.  What can you say to that?

“Yeah, and on top of that, I’ve never been out of state before and I can’t believe how cheap things are down here.  These sunglasses I just bought for 13 bucks would cost me 50 at home.  I’m going to pick up a laptop and a necklace for my girl.”


One comment.

  1. And to add a little more context…a friend of mine wrote to ask if I thought it was cool if Japanese and Norwegians killed whales. Or if I thought it was cool that the industrial machine feeds the desire for material goods, charging an arm and a leg when they can…I wrote this reply:

    Well, what’s cool for me is that these are people who are living a subsistence life. Eating these foods is very, very important for Inupiat peoples. Their bodies cannot tolerate western foods, especially carbohydrates, which are very cheap sources of energy. To fly imported carbs like bread, grains and potatoes to the coast of the Bering Sea is a financial huge cost and creates massive amounts of diabetes, and substantially shortens life spans.

    Killing whales is no more or less cool than killing all the other things we eat. What is not cool about Norwegians, Japanese and other Americans doing it (the Inupiat are Americans after all) is the industrial food production and factory farming and slaughtering of these animals for unnecessary food consumption.

    To live well, indeed to increase the social determinants of health for all indigenous communities, means returning to traditional diets of readily available local food. Flying a diabetes-causing potato from Idaho to Nome is far less cool than having a community engage in a sea mammal hunt for its own independence, sustenance and health.

    Here is a really great article that goes into some detail about these diets.

    The guy I met was having the time of his life, being the first time in the lower 48. He was excited and amazed by how different life was in Oregon than in Alaska AND he was looking forward to getting home to finish dressing the seal and the walrus and getting a beluga. It’s a cool world in many ways that brought us into a little conversation over coffee.