Engaging Bristol Bay's Tribal Communities
With 229 federally-recognized tribal governments in Alaska, 19 distinct language areas, and six distinct cultural regions, Alaska Native tribes are a significant presence in the state. Their connection to the land and dependence on it are factors EPA considers when working on environmental issues in Alaska.
Fourteen of the Bristol Bay watershed’s 25 villages and communities are within the Nushagak and Kvichak River watersheds. Thirteen of the 14 communities have federally recognized tribal governments and a majority Alaska Native population. The salmon runs of Bristol Bay serve as a major subsistence food source and provide many Native residents with income. They also are the basis for Alaska Native culture, social relations, and spirituality.
Bristol Bay tribes petition EPA
EPA launched the Bristol Bay Assessment in response to petitions from federally recognized tribes and others who wrote to EPA with concerns about how large-scale mining could impact Bristol Bay fisheries. Other tribes and stakeholders requested that EPA wait for mining permit applications to determine the potential environmental impacts of mining. The assessment provides a better understanding of the Bristol Bay watershed and will inform consideration of development in the area.
In May 2012, EPA held public meetings in Bristol Bay villages to hear directly from Alaska Native residents. Tribal input was a vital component of the assessment.
The role of traditional knowledge
Tribes have special knowledge of the Bristol Bay watershed because they have lived there for thousands of years. This is referred to as traditional knowledge.
Two anthropologists with extensive experience in Alaska documented traditional knowledge in the Nushagak and Kvichak River watersheds. They interviewed 53 Elders and other culture bearers who were identified as authoritative sources of information about subsistence, traditional ecological knowledge, nutrition, social relations and spiritual aspects of their culture. This information is included in the Bristol Bay Assessment as Appendix D.
Meeting with Bristol Bay area tribes
EPA officials have made many visits to engage with Alaska tribes since launching our watershed assessment - including twenty five visits to twelve villages and additional meetings in Alaska, Seattle, and Washington D.C.
We invited all Bristol Bay tribal governments to participate in tribal consultation, and we're available to meet with tribes and tribal groups that would like information on the assessment.
Representatives from tribes and Alaska Native organizations we've connected with at meetings or by phone include:
- Aleknagik Village Council
- Alaska Peninsula Corporation
- Bristol Bay Native Corporation
- Chogguing Limited
- Clark’s Point Village Council
- Curyung Village Council
- Ekuk Village Council
- Ekwok Natives Limited
- Ekwok Village Council
- Igiugig Native Corporation
- Igiugig Village Council
- Iliamna Natives Limited
- Iliamna Village Council
- Kijik Corporation
- Kokhanok Village Council
- Koliganek Natives Limited
- Koliganek Village Council
- Levelock Natives Limited
- Levelock Village Council
- Manakotak Natives Limited
- Manokotak Village Council
- Naknek Village Council
- New Stuyahok Village Council
- Newhalen Village Council
- Nondalton Village Council
- Paug-Vik LTD
- Pedro Bay Corporation
- Pedro Bay Village Council
- Portage Creek Village Council
- Saguyak Inc
- South Naknek Village Council
- Stuyahok Limited
- Tanalian Inc.
- Togiak Natives Limited
- Togiak Village Council
- Twin Hills
- Twin Hills Native Corporation
A government-to-government relationship
EPA has an obligation to work with tribes on a government-to-government basis on decisions or activities that impact them. The concept of tribes as sovereign nations and has been affirmed by the courts, Congress and the President.
The tribal governments in the Bristol Bay watershed have an opportunity to engage the federal government on decisions impacting watershed resources in a process called tribal consultation.
EPA engaged tribes in official government-to-government meetings as part of the Bristol Bay Assessment. We held discussions and informational community meetings with tribal members, tribal village corporations and non-profit organizations.
Our engagement with tribes was a consistent thread from start to finish of the assessment. As year-round, lifelong residents, Alaska Natives have a great stake in the Bristol Bay watershed’s future.
More about traditional knowledge
Traditional Ecological Knowledge is a system of understanding one's environment based on observations and experience. It is built over generations as people depend on the land and sea for their food, materials, and culture.
Local knowledge systems are based on the shared experiences, customs, values, traditions, lifestyles, social interactions, ideological orientations and spiritual beliefs specific to Native communities. This understanding evolves as new knowledge is obtained and generated.
Scientists recognize the value of working with people who live in an area and who have great insight into the natural processes at work in that area. While the scientific perspective is often different from the traditional perspective, both have a great deal to offer one another. Working together is the best way of helping us achieve a better common understanding of nature.
The tribal governments in Bristol Bay have an opportunity to engage the federal government on decisions impacting Bristol Bay resources in a process called tribal consultation.