Alaskan Tribes applaud protection of the Northern Bering Sea

U.S. President Joe Biden and Director Mellisa Johnsen of the Bering Sea Elders Group. (Photo: Jlhervàs,Flickr/Private)
U.S. President Joe Biden and Director Mellisa Johnsen of the Bering Sea Elders Group. (Photo: Jlhervàs,Flickr/Private)
Alaskan Tribes offers the Biden Administration their appreciation and gratitude for reinstating the Northern Bering Sea Climate Resilience Area. "The people of the Bering Sea deserve to be part of decisions that affect our lands", says Director of the Bering Sea Elders Group, Mellisa Johnson.

Among the actions U.S. President Joe Biden took on his first day in office was to reinstate the Northern Bering Sea Climate Resilience Area. Created by a President Obama executive order on Dec. 9, 2016, it called for increased tribal participation and inclusion of traditional knowledge in federal decisions affecting the globally significant U.S. northern Bering Sea and Bering Strait region.

The order also required establishment of safeguards for the Northern Bering Sea from large-scale shipping and other industrial activities while also maintaining existing protections from bottom-trawl fishing.

In a press release, the Bering Sea Elders Group, and other tribal organizations of the Bering Sea region, offers the Biden Administration their appreciation and gratitude for reinstating the Northern Bering Sea Climate Resilience Area in his Day 1 executive actions.

Executive Director for the Bering Sea Elders Group, Mellisa Johnson, is happy to see her ancestors legacy protected:

Our home waters are not to be used as a political football from administration to administration
Executive Director for the Bering Sea Elders Group, Mellisa Johnson.

“The Bering Sea area has been home to our ancestors for thousands of years, and it will be home to our descendants for thousands of more years to come. In this bountiful but fragile part of the world, we live in balance with each other and our environment and the fish, birds, and animals”, Johnson and and other Tribal organizations of Western Alaska and the Bering Sea states.

“Our people are not merely users of our environment―rather, we are part of this delicate and globally unique ecosystem”.

Clear directions

The Tribal organizations has worked for years advocating for the protections in Executive Order 13754. The Order provides a pathway for the Tribes to exercise self-determination and elevates their role in decision-making over the management of activities in the Bering Sea.

Map showing The Northern Bering Sea and Bering Strait Region. (Source: White House/The Pew Charitable Trusts)
Map showing The Northern Bering Sea and Bering Strait Region. (Source: White House/The Pew Charitable Trusts)
Map showing The Northern Bering Sea and Bering Strait Region. (Source: White House/The Pew Charitable Trusts)

Any decisions affecting indigenous people are to be made in partnership with the leadership of the Tribal governments, who are sovereign nations and have a unique government-to-government relationship with the United States.

The order also sets out clear direction on shipping pollution, industrial fishing, oil and mineral extraction, marine debris, and oil spill preparedness. It also emphasizes the importance of bringing Traditional Indigenous knowledges and western science together to provide the best information to address climate change.

Drastic impacts

“The rapidly changing climate and the associated loss of sea ice in the Bering Sea have drastically impacted our hunting and fishing opportunities and our food security.  We are bearing witness directly and experiencing the negative impacts of this reality daily”, the Tribes says, worrying for their future.

As the Bering Sea becomes ice free, increased shipping, pollution, the potential for offshore oil and gas drilling, large-scale mining, commercial fisheries, and the introduction of invasive species threaten food security, cultures, and communities.

“We recognize that there is more work to be done, and we urge Congress to pass complementing legislation to provide permanent protections for the Northern Bering Sea Climate Resilience Area, so that our home waters are not used as a political football from administration to administration”, the press release states.

Of the people, by the people, and for the people

The protections for the Northern Bering Sea Climate Resilience Area are part of President Biden’s broad Executive Order on Protecting Public Health and the Environment and Restoring Science to Tackle the Climate Crisis — and there are additional components of the broader order that will also benefit the regions and protect the local way of life.

Hunting with spear, Alaska. Photo: James Barker.
Traditional hunting with spear in Alaska. (Photo: James Barker).
Traditional hunting with spear in Alaska. (Photo: James Barker).

The Tribes says that including indigenous knowledge and science in federal policy-making is core to good governance of the people, by the people, and for the people. The Bering Sea and Bering Strait are home to more than 70 federally recognized Tribes, and Indigenous Peoples have lived in this region for millennia.

“As the original and contemporary stewards of the lands and waters, we have established deep connections with the region that have resulted in extensive bodies of knowledge about the Bering Sea ecosystem that have been passed down from generation to generation", says the Tribes and continues;

"Our worldviews include humans as an integral part of this highly interconnected ecosystem, including marine, freshwater, terrestrial, atmospheric, and ice-related systems”.

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“Our people live an indigenous way of life that is inextricably woven with our lands and waters. Our Traditional and Indigenous knowledge systems are continually updated, adapted, and reshaped as our individual and collective experiences and observations inform them. The Bering Sea is part of our identities as Yup’ik, St. Lawrence Island Yupik, Cup’ik, and Inupiaq people, and is as important to us as the land”.

The Tribe Organizations look forward to working with the Biden-Harris Administration on the implementation of the reinstated Executive Order 13754, especially the creation of the Bering Sea Intergovernmental Tribal Advisory Council and the integration of Traditional and Indigenous knowledges into federal decision making processes.

“We, the people of the Bering Sea, deserve to be part of decisions that affect our lands, waters, and communities”, concludes Mellisa Johnson on behalf of the Tribes.

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