WINTER 2005

WINTER 2005 FULL ISSUE

SLAVES OF THE HARVEST

By PAUL KOBERSTEIN

For two centuries, the Native Aleuts who live on the Pribilof Islands were exploited by both the Russian and U.S. governments.  "Our people were wards - some say slaves - of the United States govern­ment until fur seal harvesting was abolished in 1984 due to national and inter­ national environmental politics," says Ron Philemonoff, chairman of TDX Corp., a village corporation on St. Paul  Island. ,

Freedom guaranteed to all U.S. citizens somehow failed to reach the tiny islands off the coast of Alaska. Of ·course, they always harbored hope their dreams of enjoying the "fruits of freedom and free enterprise" might someday become reality, if only because 75 percent of the Bering Sea's rich resources are within 200 miles of their home.  But they were living on tiny islands thousands of miles from the nation's capitol, too far away, apparently for anyone·in government to care

And now, with slavery gone, the Pribilovians still have reason to think they are still too unimportant to matter.  "With such abundance within close proximity, we were optimistic that an equitable share of those resources would be made available to us to meet the economic needs of the Aleut people of the Pribilof Islands," Philemonoff told a U.S. Senate hearing in 2003.

Instead, he claims the government gave away the Pribilovians' future away to an "already well best group of influence peddling large fishery resource owning companies."

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Paul Koberstein