The Availability and Harvesting of Naturally
Occurring Resources: Subsistence Economy
"Economics" will be used here as a generic term that refers to any full system of production, subsuming production, exchange, distribution, and consumption. The term "subsistence economics" refers to a specific mode of production. It comprises the organization of labor that is required to extract, process, and store naturally occurring resources; the organization of distribution required to share, gift, or reciprocate those resources; and the patterns of consumption of those resources that can be observed. The natural resources themselves occur and persist without human planning or manipulation. Human activities can, of course, interrupt the growth, even the existence, of these natural resources, but in the absence of man and his activities, they will continue to exist, even if other natural events periodically limit their growth or distribution.
The economics of subsistence in the Alaskan arctic and sub-arctic has undergone gradual changes over the past 120 years. In the mid-seventeenth century, and probably earlier, native trade networks connected groups from the Alaskan interior to Siberia. The connections were so complex as to comprise a single, unbounded network, a large exchange system in which, for the most part, neighbors bartered goods produced as by-products from naturally occurring resources (e.g., wooden con-miners, wooden ladles, oil rendered from seal blubber, pelts from fur-bearers, caribou hides, carved ivory). Although the network organized neighbors into barter relationships, often through trade partnerships between persons, some goods produced in the interior of Alaska made their way to European merchants in Russia. Cash was not known, nor was the concept of capital. So cash was not exchanged among Alaskan natives, nor was capital accumulated, but exchanging for desired goodsâgoods that were shared with kinspersons and friendsâwas an important stimulus to trade.
In the mid-nineteenth century, the Russians organized the North Alaskan fur trade, which marked the beginning of a series of changes in which Alaskan natives became integrated into the peripheries of the world political economy. The Russians expropriated native land by discovery, then sold that land to the United States, while denying native claims to it. At this very time, natives in the Bering Sea region, including St. Lawrence Island residents, began selling their labor to commercial whalers from Europe and the United States. By the late nineteenth century, the residents of the Wainwright region were selling their labor not only to commercial whaling operators but also to a coal mine operator at Wainwright. And following the collapse of the commercial whaling industry in the Arctic Ocean, Wainwright hunters began journeying several hundred miles south to Unalakleet to trade pelts directly with the Alaska Commercial Company. By the 1930s, a few Unalakleet natives were acquiring motorboats, and soon after World War II, some Unalakleet men were acquiring large commercial set nets, as they entered the commercial fishing industry.
Thus, before the turn of the century, Eskimos from Unalakleet to Wainwright had had their land expropriated, de jure if not de facto, by Czarist Russiaâonly to have it sold subsequently to the United States. They came into regular trade relations with merchants and middlemen wherein they exchanged by-products from naturally occurring resources for goods, such as knives, axes, and wooden and metal containers. The United States imposed its authority over the Eskimos, established schools, established reindeer herds, and, through a plethora of federal laws, exercised controls over their societies and their lives, while drawing them ever deeper into the public sector of the economy.
The capitalist political economy into which Alaskan Eskimos were being integrated brought them to the edges of the market. Labor, goods, and public sector transfers became the means by which Eskimos gained cash to purchase items that assisted them in their subsistence harvests.
Currently, the technology that can be purchased from public and private sources of income has altered the organization of extraction, while becoming deeply embedded within it. Snow-machines have replaced dog traction; motorboats have replaced the kayak (kayaq ) and, for the most part, the umiak (umiaq ). Rifles and guns have replaced many nets, snares, and traps. Time allocations for harvests have been changed markedly. Even the organization of labor for extraction of many species has changed. Furthermore, the kinds and amounts of resources that are harvested have changed.
On some occasions, and for some purposes, a woman drives her own snowmachine, usually alongside her husband on his. A few women in Wainwright and Unalakleet own rifles, which they use to hunt caribou and even moose and seals in the case of at least one Unalakleet woman. And women serve on a few Gambell walrus crews. These are marked departures from past practices, in which tools of the hunt, men's tools, could not be touched by women; in which tools used to extract animals of the sea could not be used to extract animals of the land; and in which men, exclusively, were the hunters. Women prepared and stored the bag and produced the by-products.
As reported above, Eskimos are well aware of the advantages of new technologies for subsistence, and they seek to acquire whatever equipment will assist them in their subsistence tasks. The influx of cash from several sources and the consequences of institutional programs, which have focused on changing Eskimo housing, education, health, and the like, have also occasioned the change from extended family households to a predominance of nuclear family households, and with it have come changes in some aspects of the organization of extraction.
Whether it has always been so, I certainly do not know, but one overriding feature of subsistence extraction in all three villages for every species extractedâfrom hooking crabs to shooting doubles on cranes (bagging two birds with one shot)âis the obvious pleasure derived from the activity. The hunt is a good time, a challenge. Indeed, subsistence activities have many of the features of sport hunting and fishing. For example, in a draft report on harvests at Unalakleet, I wrote (Jorgensen and Maxwell 1984a) that when villagers cleaned their set nets, they usually grabbed their spinning rods and sought to catch a few salmon on hook and lineâa most inefficient but decidedly pleasurable task.
The Minerals Management Service personnel who read the report were incredulous. They had never read of or heard about Eskimos engaging in such avowedly pleasurable subsistence activities, and they wondered whether Eskimos in any other villages acted in this fashion. Not only do they pull out spinning tackle in Gambell and Wainwright but they do so in all of the villages. Jigging through the winter ice for fish, hunting walrus, or shooting geese while fooling them with expert calls, to cite a few examples, are delightful and desired, as well as necessary, activities.
The question of "necessity" should not be narrowly interpreted. I simply mean that whereas it is necessary to procure resources for sustenance, pleasure is part of the extraction experience. But it is surely not necessary to extract all types of edible resources in a habitat or to place equal weight and value on all resources. Villagers in all three villages forego some resources that are available in their habitats. So, it is clearly not necessary to harvest anything and everything. Choices are made, and those choices are conditioned by many factors, including knowledge, experience, taste, transportation requirements, hourly work requirements, vagaries of weather, and natural disasters.
In Wainwright, for instance, the residents choose not to harvest lemmings, brown bears, and dozens of locally occurring fish and avian species. In Gambell, the tundra vole is passed by. In Unalakleet, blackfish and several varieties of birds are seldom extracted. Furthermore, as animals become available in areas in which they did not occur previously, or at least did not occur in great numbers, the natives often make only casual efforts to harvest them. Such is the case for walrus for Unalakleet hunters and moose for Wainwright hunters. Yet in both instances, hunters are increasing their takes of these animals as they gain experience with them.
The point is that the subsistence economies of the 1980s in the three villages are not the same as they were in the 1950s or 1060s and certainly not the same as they were in the 1920s. It is not "necessary" to extract every edible species in each habitat. Preferences change; skills and knowledge change; even requirements for transportation change: the liberation from dog traction and the reliance on motorboats, snowmachines, and ATCs have unmistakably altered native choices about resources as well as the amounts of resources that must be harvested. And subsistence pursuits are not merely fun, or sport, or activities that take an Eskimo's mind off his (or her) wage employment. Eskimos desire to acquire and eat native foods, and they depend on native foods for their sustenance; that is, subsistence pursuits are necessary to natives.
The changes that have occurred to the organization of extraction are consonant with the instrumental way in which natives in all three villages accommodate themselves to their environments and to the equipment that allows them to cope more efficiently in the procurement of many species. And even if the influx of cash and the programs of various institutionsâfrom the federal government to village nonprofit corporationsâhave altered family household organizations, still the organization of distribution, the patterns of consumption, and the ideology of kinship and friendship obligations with respect to subsistence have changed very little. Eskimo subsistence is not nuclearized or private, nor is it engaged in for personal gain.
The Modern Subsistence Economy
Modern subsistence economies integrate modem technologies and the sources of income required to maintain them. There is no doubt that the modern versions of the subsistence economies of Gambell, Unalakleet, and Wainwright are different from the general arctic and subarctic subsistence economies of twenty-five years ago. Nevertheless, they remain quintessentially subsistence economies in their organizations of production: ownership, control, labor, distribution, consumption. Let me explain what I mean by a "quintessentially subsistence economy."
Subsistence modes of production, literally of extraction, in the three arctic and subarctic villages in this study can be distinguished from other economic forms by several factors in addition to their direct and intimate links to naturally occurring resources. First, subsistence modes of production lack well-developed market systems. The producer consumes his own product, although he is not the sole consumer of his product. Nevertheless, middlemen are not inserted between the producer and the consumer. Nor are permanent locations or structures set aside for the exclusive purpose of exchanges of goods. Second, while exchanges of processed or unprocessed resources for services do occur, these are relatively rare and do not provide the energizing force of the system. Third, in a subsistence economy, labor is not a commodity that can be bought and sold in the marketplace.
A fourth characteristic is that neither the extracted resources themselves nor the labor required for extracting and processing them are converted to capital. Since capital accumulation does not occur, the savings of renewable resources for future sales is limited as a motivator of human activity. However, resources are preserved and stored to sustain human Fife. Forces such as wind, water, and changes in temperature, as well as biological processes, render difficult any form of long-term storage (periods beyond one or two years). The technological requirements for overcoming these forces and processes are either very expensive or unavailable. Resources are therefore stored and subsequently distributed to maintain life, but they are not stored for future sale and the conversion to capital.
The fifth distinguishing characteristic may be found in the distribution pattern used in subsistence economies. Distribution of resources in subsistence economies is, for the most part, based on family, extended kinspersons, friendship, and village networks. Goods except at community festivals, when they may be pooledâare not distributed to people outside the established personal networks. The absence of specialization within a subsistence economy is a sixth distinguishing feature. An individual's productive activity is built on a broad spectrum of skills, which are directed toward a wide range of products and species.
A seventh and final factor, one closely related to the previous six, is the fact that productive activities are directly linked to procuring food and shelter for the maintenance of life itself. This final factor elicits an image of an individualistic economic structure. In fact, however, the social fabric in which the subsistence economy is embedded is crucial within and among communities.
Subsistence, the Political Economy, and Cash
A long history of trapping (commodity), whaling (labor), coal mining (labor), fishing (commodity), public sector employment and transfers, and federal and, more recently, state relations and controls has drawn native villages ever deeper into public sector dependencies, as their traditional lands and resources have been expropriated. The interplay among the cash derived from public and private sector economic activities, the technology for subsistence and commercial activities, and the persistence of the subsistence economy will be discussed in part throughout this and the following four chapters, but the theory that accounts for the persistence of native subsistence economies in Alaska will be proposed in chapter 9. With this in mind, let Us explain the cycle of naturally occurring, renewable species that are extracted by residents of the three villages and the organizations that exist for extracting and distributing those resources, including strategies and planning.
Introduction to Culture and Nature at Gambell, Unalakleet, and Wainwright
No one season or month begins the subsistence year at any of the three villages, so the beginning point for our periodization is somewhat arbitrary, fitted as it is to the Gregorian calendar, which cuts the arctic and subarctic winter season in half. This is true, even though the three villages differ among themselves in habitat and in the variety and amounts of naturally occurring resources that are available to them. Wainwright is, after all, arctic, whereas Gambell and Unalakleet are subarctic. Nevertheless, the winters are long and the summers short at all three villages, and the activities that are conducted at such feverish pace during the summers at all three villages are the necessary prelude to the long and demanding winters.
The residents of Gambell extract resources over about half of the length of the island and 30 miles and more from shore in the northern Bering Sea, sharing their bag, catches, and collections with their kinspersons from Savoonga. The Savoonga residents, who use roughly the other half of the island, share the products of their efforts with their kinspersons in Gambell. In this way, the territorial range of families in each village is increased. The distance between the two villages is 48 miles. This is an important factor for island residents and should not escape our attention.
Although millions of birds nest or pass across the island each year, and although thousands of sea mammals summer in the vicinity of Gambell, St. Lawrence Island's resources are limited in comparison with those of Unalakleet and Wainwright. Furthermore, access to the resources on which island subsistence is based is often constrained by weather conditions even more than is the case for either Wainwright or Unalakleet. Because of the absolute limits on island resources, the long distances to the mainland, and the prohibition against hunting along the Siberian coast, gifting and sharing loom especially large in Gam-bell and Savoonga, especially since residents from either, or both, can come on hard times during long winter periods in which stored foods are depleted and fresh quarry cannot be added to the larder.
In Unalakleet, the native foods that are extracted and enjoyed by the residents become ready at different times of the year, but there is no time when at least some native food that is important to the local diet is not available. Native foods are sought throughout the year, whenever people have the need or "taste" for them and the means, and weather, and travel conditions to go for them. ("Taste" is used in our discussions of all three villages to convey the idea that some food is desired at a certain moment or during a certain season. The amount desired may be small, but whatever the amount is, it is desired.) The subsistence resources on which people rely are numerous, and several are abundant during the season in which they occur. Most of these resources are available and harvested within a 60-mile radius of town: along the length of the Unalakleet River valley and its tributary river valleys, north and south along the coast, and about 30 to 80 miles west into Norton Sound. Winter caribou hunts, however, frequently are conducted more than 100 miles northeast of the village. Four- and five-day hunting trips engaged in by as many as a dozen men on snowmachines are commonplace.
Wainwright lies on the tundra well above the Arctic Circle. Its environs do not produce the wide spectrum of fauna found near Unalakleet. However, certain species of mammals and fish are seasonally and locally abundant. Normally, caribou are abundant in the late summer and fall and available through most of the year. In the spring, ducks and geese migrate through the area in vast numbers. In 1982, Luton (1985) observed a man and wife net nearly seventy chum salmon in a single day in front of town, while thousands of walrus drifted by on ice floes.
In the early 1980s, several hunting trips for Dall sheep were undertaken from Wainwright. One of these trips took four days by snowmachine into the Brooks Range. Yet even when such extraordinary hunts are excluded, the people of Wainwright continue todayâas they did in the pastâto extract resources distributed across vast areas of land and sea (see Pederson 1979). In 1982, during the field investigation period of this study, people frequently traveled by snowmachine 150 miles or more inland into the foothills of the Brooks Range to hunt. The cabins of many Wainwrighters are located 50 miles and more up the Kuuk River. People traveled to Atqasuk on the Mead River to fish. Still others hunted around Icy Cape or fished on the Utukok. In 1982, one of the two Wainwright whales was taken off Atanik, 25 miles northeast of town. A boatload of Wainwright walrus hunters was temporarily stranded more than 100 miles to the north, on the ice near Barrow.
Such travels expand the types of environments that are exploited by Wainwrighters, as they do for Unalakleet villagers. Wider environments add to the types of flora and fauna they encounter and increase the times at which natural resources can be extracted in abundance. But long trips by snowmachine are expensive, and even the most carefully laid plans can founder on the unexpected behavior of a species (e.g., caribou may have migrated in an unpredicted direction), the breakdown of equipment (snowmachines, pack sleds, or the like), or the occurrence of extremely harsh and protracted storms. The need to carry sufficient fuel to reach far distant hunting sites restricts the amounts of quarry that can be returned to the village.
It is the case in all the villages that people look to the land and its rivers, to the sea, and to the skies for their subsistence needs. The resources they harvest for food come from all three. The land and the sea provide certain resources year-round, and others do so seasonally. In the midst of an environment yielding numerous and sometimes abundant resources, people nevertheless must work hard at the harvest, and they must acquire and constantly draw on a considerable store of knowledge about the resources and the natural conditions to be able to meet their subsistence needs each year.
The three villages do not acquire the bulk of their subsistence resources during identical seasonsâa reflection of the different environments in which they are located and to which the residents of each have adapted over past centuries. Gambell natives acquire the majority of their food supply during the spring (walrus and whales), while many fewer resources are available to Gambell residents than to the natives in either of the other two villages during the long winter season. The bulk of the food stored and eaten in Unalakleet is acquired during the summer (fish, in particular), but several different kinds of resources are available to them throughout the year. The bulk of the naturally occurring resources eaten in Wainwright are harvested in the spring (whales) and in the late summer and fall. (Caribou, the staple, is available throughout most of the year.)
None of the villages harvests the majority of resources during the long winter season, which starts a few days to a couple of weeks after the autumnal equinox and begins to abate a short time after the vernal equinox. Leads begin to appear in the Bering Sea ice near St. Lawrence Island in late March, signaling the onset of the most active and productive sea mammal hunting seasonâthe staple of Gambell villager life. In Unalakleet, the onset of spring activities begins with bearded seal hunting, usually in April, but the most feverish harvesting pace commences with the roe-on-kelp collecting and the salmon runs during early June. The leads appear in the Chukchi Sea ice, accompanied by sea mammals, in late April or early May, about a month later than at Gambell. Although sea mammals contribute to Wainwright villager subsistence, they do not contribute nearly so much to the total local diet as they did twenty years ago (the bowhead and beluga whales remain as large and highly preferred portions of the diet). The main activities of the subsistence cycle at Wainwright, that is, the period in which Wainwright villagers harvest the majority of the resources that carry them through the year, begin in July, with the most intense caribou hunting activities.
Thus, the principal harvesting activities for the three villages all begin during the period of ice breakup, but they begin in earnest for Unalakleet and Wainwright residents considerably later than at Gambell. Furthermore, the three villages focus their attention on different species for their main staples.
Figure 6 provides a gross comparison of the relative abundance of the harvests of naturally occurring resources among the three villages. Although the inhabitants of all three villages wereâfor several centuries and continuing into the recent pastâheavy extractors of sea mammals, in the 1980s, sea mammals provide the bulk of harvested natural resources only in Gambell. For the present, at least, more important contributions to subsistence than those made by sea mammals are made by fish in Unalakleet, while whales and caribou provide approximately equal contributions in Wainwright. Nevertheless, in all three villages, whales are the most desired animals, although not even in Gambell do they make up the single largest contribution to diet or to by-products.
Whether they are participating in the hunt, or in ceremonies sponsored after whale hunts, or in gifting, sharing, and eating the various parts of the whale, Eskimos see this animal as the
single most important symbol connecting them to their own place, to their histories. Former villagers residing in Anchorage or Seattle, for instance, long for a "taste" of maktak (whale skin with blubber attached) and whale meat. They rejoice when their relatives send them "CARE" (the term used by natives) packages that include either a bit of maktak or some whale meat. To hear Eskimos talk about their desire to taste whale and about the re-vitalization they experience when tasting it after a long period without impresses the observer that such persons feel as if they have had their cultural batteries rechargedâshades of a totemic feast.
A second generalization to draw from figure 6 is that, with the exception of caribou and moose, the villagers in all three villages have access to similar kinds of resources. Unalakleet enjoys a more moderate climate and a greater variety of resources year-round than either Gambell or Wainwright. Yet it is probable that the biomass that is available for harvesting is more or less equal among the three villages. The significant differences among the villages tend to be strategic. Access to large quantifies of resources year-round is greater at Unalakleet. Furthermore, the principal resource harvested at Unalakleetâfishâis extracted with more efficient techniques than is possible for the extraction of staples at the other villagesâsea mammals at Gam-bell, caribou at Wainwright.
What cannot be seen in figure 6 is the drastic reduction in the numbers of sea mammals harvested in all three villages since 1971, the year that ANCSA was passed and construction of the trans-Alaskan oil pipeline began. Although all three villages continue to harvest large numbers of sea mammals, and although the people of Gambell and its sister village, Savoonga, remain principally dependent on sea mammals for the majority of their diet, several factors have coalescedâsome related and some notâto reduce the number of sea mammals taken in all three villages, even though the population of each has grown since 1971.
The principal factor in the decline of sea mammal harvesting is the dog population. Villages that as recently as 1970 had more dogs than people have in recent years had few dogs at all, other than a few pets. Dogs kept by families prior to 1971 were chiefly mature, working animals. Litters were usually killed unless a family felt that it needed to replace one or more of its working animals. Mature working dogs, we estimate, consumed about 60 percent of the annual harvestâfish, caribou, but especially sea mammals. Several factors, including the number of dogs, coalesced to reduce the take of sea mammals. Other factors are snowmachines, motorboats, and ATCs, which reduced the time required to pursue, locate, and dispatch large land and sea mammals, while at the same time alleviating the need to feed dogs. The factor of employment income became important in purchasing and maintaining snowmachines, outboard motors, skiffs, ATCs, and electronic gear and also in purchasing fuel. By restricting access to some sea mammals, federal laws and international agreements also became significant factors.
The explanation for the reduced harvests of sea mammals is that there are no longer large numbers of dogs to be fed in the villages of Wainwright and Gambell. Indeed, there were no dog teams at all in Gambell in 1981-82 and only one dog team in Wainwright. (The team in Wainwright is used for sled racing, not hunting.) Before 1971, dogs and sleds were the major source of transportation in all three villages for six to eight months of each year. The hunting techniques employed by the villagers fired the limitations of their dog teams. Most important, hunting focused on bagging large quantifies of meat to feed the dogs. With the advent of snowmachines, dog traction became obsolete, and petroleum, a nonrenewable energy resource, replaced animal protein, a renewable energy resource. Dogs became too expensive to maintain, so they were either shot or allowed to die.
Various estimates have been offered about the daily meat consumption of working dogs during the winter and of non-working dogs in the summer. The ranges are four to seven pounds daily in the coldest periods and one-half pound daily during the ice-free periods (Bane n.d.; Spencer 1959; Milan 1964; Nelson 1969). Bane, who ran and hunted with a team in Wainwright for three years, conservatively estimated that the average daily meat consumption of dogs on an annual basis was three pounds. Table 2 estimates the annual meat consumption by dogs for 1965 and 1982 and projects what the annual meat consumption by dogs would have been for 1982, if all households still relied on dog traction.
There are thirty-five dog teams used for sled racing and hunting in Unalakleet. Even with the recent increase in dog teams there, however, the aggregate reduction in tons of meat harvested for all villages dropped from 878 in 1965 to 137 in 1982. If dog traction had been maintained as the dominant mode of transportation, 1,624 tons of meat would have been required to feed the dog teams in the three villages in 1982âabout twelve times as much meat as was consumed by dogs that year.
Should the three villages return to dog traction while maintaining their present sizes, the territories that would have to be covered to yield sufficient food for all families would undoubtedly be greater than the spaces from which subsistence resources currently are extracted to sustain the populations. It is conceivable that a return to total or near-total dog traction would necessitate the fissioning into smaller villages located at reasonable distances from one another so as to provide accessible strategic resources for all. Should villages break up and families relocate, concomitant changes in the organization of labor for extraction would undoubtedly occur. Yet it is my impression that the organization of distribution and consumption would change very little. The organization of those sectors of extraction will be developed in chapter 5.
Consequences of Using Snowmachines and Motorboats
The speed, pulling power, and ease of maintenance of snow-machines have had a remarkable impact on life in all three villages in a very short time. Men were enabled to extend their hunting ranges and bag game sufficient for their subsistence needs in less time than was possible when dog traction was employed. And about 60 percent less game had to be bagged, because there were no dogs to feed. Furthermore, men who once
Estimated Annual Meat Consumption by Dogs in the Three Villages, 1965 and 1982, and Projected Consumption for 1982, Assuming Total Dog Traction
|Number of Native House holds||Average Number Dogs per Native House hold||Average Annual Meat Consumed by Dogs per House hold (in tons)||Aggregate Annual Meat Consumed by Dogs per Village (in tons, rounded)||Projected Annual Meat Consumed Assuming Total Dog Traction (in tons)|
|Estimate of Savings 1,487 tons|
|* = Not significant|
traveled with their families, often in the company of other hunting families, found that it was possible to conduct many harvest pursuits alone, doing in a few hours what formerly took families several days to accomplish.
But snowmachines are not the sole technological items that have significantly altered Eskimo hunting practices: the advent of skiffs and outboard motors was instrumental in changing the composition of task groups for walrus hunting while increasing the potential bag of walrus and seals as well as the catches of fish. Motorboats also made it possible for Unalakleet residents to engage in commercial fishing in Norton Sound, while simultaneously allowing other members of their families to fish for subsistence at strategic locations along the Unalakleet River.
Thus, for part of the year, the organization of labor for subsistence has been altered by the organization of labor required to harvest fish to be sold as a commodity. Yet harvesting fish for commercial sale has allowed for the purchase of boats, motors, and fuel, so that families can engage more efficiently in the subsistence economy. We can refer to this phenomenon as "feedback," but regardless of the name we attach to it, Unalakleet natives recognized the advantages of commercial fishing. Engaging in the activity necessitated the purchase of equipment that could be used for subsistence and commercial purposes. But once acquired, the equipment had to produce cash so that the speed and efficiency of the same equipment could be used for subsistence.
Walrus hunters at Gambell experienced a complementary phenomenon. Skiffs that could be used to acquire walrus for subsistence also had to be used to acquire ivory for carvings, to make it possible for the hunters to continue to use this fast, efficient equipment for subsistence pursuits. Public transfers of funds stepped into the breach for Wainwright villagers. But they will not do so forever, since the basis for the transfers is tax money from oil, which will not last forever.
Ice-edge hunting for seals and walrus, which was formerly done with dog traction, is much less common now than it was two decades ago in all three villages, as hunters in motorboats pursue their quarry in open leads, at haul-out areas, and on ice floes. Caribou, too, which float down the rivers and along the coast on large floes during spring breakup, are pursued in motorboats by Wainwright hunters. Caribou are also hunted by crews using motorboats during the summer periods to ply the rivers and locate the herds. Early each fall, Unalakleet hunters locate moose in this fashion. After freeze-up, caribou are pursued by Wainwright and Unalakleet hunters on snowmachines.
Large outlays of money for equipment, maintenance, and fuel were required to switch from dogs to motorized transportation. The transition, of course, tightly tied the subsistence economies of the three villages to wage work and cash transfers of various kinds. That is not to say that subsistence activities and the market economy are inextricably bound. It appears that they could be extricated if necessary. It is to say, however, that subsistence activities at present consume a very large portion of the monies that flow into village households and that the organization of labor has changed with the advent of the uses of cash for subsistence pursuits.
Preferential Harvests As A Consequence of Income
Although the transition from dog traction to motorized traction had a striking impact on the reduction of overall takes of sea mammals by hunters in the three villages, access to tax revenues made possible by oil production at Prudhoe Bay has occasioned other dramatic changes in subsistence pursuits. These changes are restricted to the North Slope villagers. Because of the very unique changes in subsistence practices that occurred in Wainwright in the late 1970s and early 1980s, we break from the format we have pursued thus far and use the practices at Wainwright as the springboard for comparing differences in the practices at Unalakleet and Gambell.
The discovery of oil at Prudhoe Bay, as an unintended consequence, stimulated the formation of the native-controlled NSB. The NSB gained some taxing authority over the oil that was pumped from Prudhoe, which resulted in the growth of government and government-related jobs and projects. Cash began to flow into NSB villages over a decade ago, and the subsistence harvests at Wainwright soon began to change.
Alaskan natives have preferences in food, as do other people around the world. And as employment and cash incomes became available to them, Wainwright natives began to reduce the number of species of land mammals, sea mammals, fish, birds, and marine invertebrates that they harvested annually. This does not mean that they reduced significantly the total amount of resources they harvested. Rather, with access to cash to buy the technology that would quicken their subsistence harvests, with less time to devote to subsistence pursuits, and with the ability to withstand periods of native food shortages by making purchases at local stores, Wainwright natives began to change some of their practices.
By about 1980, most Wainwright residents could find employment at high rates of pay for a few months each year; perhaps two or more persons in the same household could find employment. There became less and less reason to pursue the less desired resources. The relatively large amount of cash available to them provided a flexibility of choice that was unimagined by and unavailable to earlier Wainwrighters, even during the whaling and fur-trading periods. Appendix C provides detailed information about the effects of preference on the harvests of various species.
Hunters in all three villages have discontinued the harvesting of the smallest rodents during the past twenty years, but Wainwright hunters, unlike their counterparts in Gambell and Unalakleet, have limited other harvests almost exclusively to the most desired species. For example, of 15 land mammal species available in the Wainwright region, only 5 are harvested, and 4 of them are harvested for their pelts. At Unalakleet, however, 18 out of 21 land mammal species are harvested.
The Wainwright people harvest only a few favored fish speciesâsalmon, char, whitefish, and some saffron cod and smelt. Two decades ago, fish were used to feed dogs but also to tide families over during bad winter weather. Since then, fish have ceased making the difference for survival in Wainwright, although they still do so in Gambell and Unalakleet. Indeed, Gambell fishermen pursue some of the very fish and birds species that are either eschewed or disregarded at Wainwright, such as sculpin and auklets.
Birds, especially waterfowl, are a pleasure to hunt, and they bring high prestige to the most proficient hunters. Wainwright hunters have restricted their hunting almost exclusively to preferred species: they hunt only 16 percent of the avian species that are available in their environment. Unalakleet hunters seek 44 percent of the species available in their environment, and Gambell hunters seek 80 percent.
A similar state of affairs exists for the extraction of marine invertebrates. Luton (1985), while working in Wainwright during 1983, perceived a relationship between the lull in capital improvement projects (CIPs) in the village, which had resulted in a downturn in employment, and the villagers' plans to harvest crabs. Thus, the choice to harvest preferred species appeared to be a function of access to cash and sufficient time to conduct the harvest. When times were bad, people immediately began thinking about alternative resource harvests. Even though subsistence harvests, then, dearly have been altered by a number of factors, the basic subsistence economies are very much intact. They simply reflect a balancing of preferences with the exigencies of the moment.