Traditional Food Safety: A message from Hank Aqquilluk
POINT HOPE, Alaska -- Since the very first day Point Hope was criticized for leaving sick caribou on the tundra American Food processing plants have recalled hundreds of food products for suspicious reasons of possible food contamination. The most recent recall was on December 24, 2009 which had recalled 248,000 lbs. of beef from a distributor in Oklahoma who
sent products out to six different states and possibly more. Before this recall a distributor in Ashville, New York recalled 545,000 lbs. of beef that may have
been contaminated with E-Coli in the month of
November. After investigations into a rash of local illnesses
Authorities linked the sickness to tainted meat from Meat processors
which initiated recalls throughout all stores that sold the meats.
After two possible deaths and numerous illnesses related to the E-Coli
outbreak the New York company decided not to reuse the collected meat
in other food products as it is legally common practice to reuse
diseased meat by cooking it thoroughly. The company said all the
545,000 lbs. of meat will be going straight to the garbage. Anyone
sited for wasting? Or is this considered wasting at all?
The Indigenous hunters and providers in Point Hope are being charged
with waste and failure to salvage diseased meat when all of the U.S.
including Alaska wastes meat a million fold. All of the hunters in
Rural Alaska need your help now to reveal the safety issues involved
in handling and processing diseased meat. You can't just say: "All you
need to do is cook the meat long enough to eat it" as this is not the
case with this E-COLI recall. I would like to see how the public would
react to the authorities telling them to keep the meat since E-Coli is
safe to eat as long as you cook it long enough.
In the State of Alaska food recalls are almost common practice and
totally legitimate as far as laws may carry them but in Rural Alaska
traditional hunters are forced to go against their traditions and
salvage all diseased meat and pack it home with them no matter what
the case may be. Alaska Fish and Game currently makes it against the
law to leave even the smallest amount of meat behind; diseased or not.
Everyone must take the meat home and store it for at least four days
before throwing it out to waste. This is the Law. This law was
originally established to prevent sports hunters from leaving valuable
meat behind from their expensive trophies which today has not been
very effective in remote areas in Alaska. Although the hunters in
Rural Alaska serve a far greater purpose than sports hunters they fall
victim to these laws therefore endangering the health of the hunter as
well as the men, women, and children handling and consuming the meat.
This law was established in 1991 but none of the Tribal Government
Members claim to have heard of this law being passed. A lawyer for one
of the defendants being charged in Point Hope argued that the law was
not properly passed through the system because of the lack of
information provided to the Native Village of Point Hope. Despite the
absence of local newspapers and internet in 1991 the argument was
thrown out of court. Although the State published it in the Anchorage
Daily News and not in any local or regional newspaper it was deemed
legitimate, even though the news failed to reach the Community of
Point Hope, the judge ruled. So these hunters had never heard of this
law before but only knew what they were taught traditionally by their
forefathers and realized all of a sudden these laws are being thrown
in front of them. The Native Village of Point Hope was shocked since a
large part of their diet consists of raw and half dried traditional
Charges of waste include up to a $10,000.00 fine, at least 7 days in
jail and up to one year in jail and last but not least suspension of
hunting privileges for five years. These punishments may be viewed as
far too great than most people may realize since a Rural Alaskan may
not even make up to $10,000.00 in a single year, then spend up to a
year in prison leaving their children with other guardians or parents
who may just be lucky enough to have one of the few jobs available in
the community now having to quit their job/retirement/benefits and
stay home with the children since there is no such thing as childcare
in the village. Finally at last being convicted would also force their
families and other dependent community members to starve or otherwise
receive handouts for five long years all for the sake of protecting
themselves from diseased meat.
These caribou herds that travel through Point Hope spend their time
grazing, feeding all around the Red Dog Lead/Zinc Mine, sited as the
whole continent of North America's biggest polluter. Also on their way
to Point Hope these herds feed off the historically contaminated
Project Chariot site. And then not to mention the radioactive waste
that was dumped into the water systems around Point Hope as part of a
scientific study by Dr. Hansen to measure the period of time
radioactive waste begins to affect the food chain. It seems Rural
Hunters have a very good reason to take precautions. We have all seen
the effects in these animals as a result of Pollution. Not only have
we seen the effects in these animals but perhaps we have seen them in
friends or family members that have passed on due to high rates of
cancer in the surrounding areas. Our Indigenous Traditional knowledge
passed down from our Ancestors has taught us how to protect ourselves
thus recognizing potential problems found in the foods we seasonally
harvest. Alaska Natives were all taught never to take sick animals
home and we all have survived through this until now. Food Safety will
ensure the future strength of our people. This can be seen only as
common sense to those who just want to survive as their ancestors did
not very long ago.
With the Incredible history of the past and the growing Industries in
our regions we find more and more of these animals unfit for
consumption today. A major factor of this undoubtedly has to do with
the man made pollution of Nature’s wilderness. The Indigenous People
who continue to survive in the wilderness depend on subsistence and
are being fined and thrown in jail because traditionally they cannot
eat these animals which have been made polluted by unnatural man-made
I ask that you open your mind to my people's traditional beliefs and
practices and understand why we do this. From my point of view,
although I was shocked and angry at these beef recalls I can still
understand why this meat is being recalled. Now see that when my
people practice their own safety precautions we are thrown in jail and
fined by the Authorities.
Our traditional foods cannot be found on the grocery shelves in
stores but in the wilderness of our lands and waters. Traditional
foods are not ready to eat foods by any means. We are the harvester,
the butcher, the health inspector, and the consumer all rolled into
one. Most Urban people who buy food from the stores will never know
what it is to have to go through the searching, then butchering,
inspections then finally enjoying the food that sits on the table day
after day with peace of mind knowing that the food is safe to eat. We
too must not take risks of feeding diseased food to others. We too
deserve to have the right to protect ourselves from handling diseased
Write your Governor, Your Representatives and let them know that it
is unfair for Rural Alaskans to be forced to harvest diseased food.
Even the shortest of letters would make a world of difference.
Everyone should know that we as Rural Alaskans are legally referred to
as second class citizens but at the very least, we deserve the right
to protect ourselves from harmful food sources as does the rest of the
Country via FDA, USDA, etc. Anything less than this and it could be
very easily considered genocide on the people.
Aqquilluk Hank Sr. 12/29/2009
### End Message From Hank
Lets work together to send a message that we are united as Tribal
Members in our duty to protect and preserve traditional & customary
Tribal resources. Tribal Communities cannot afford to rest while our
food security is compromised.
AI-TC Tribal News Team
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