Subsistence: The Meaning of the Word


Mar 4, 2010

As I am sure many, or even most of you, heard we were in Anchorage this past week for a ‘get together’  with most of the other AB contributors and the Anchorage blogger community. There are so many things to ‘report’ it will take us a bit to sort it all out and get to you’ all!!

To say that five women, plus a few others throughout the week, were busy with ‘discussing’ various topics might be an understatement!!

OK, any comments on women and ‘discussing’ or other things it might be called can be stifled at this time! :-)

One of the themes that I noticed we sure worked over well was HOW we are talking about issues. The language we use, the way we approach and try to bring issues forward, and generally how to facilitate more understanding of the issues we want share with all of you was an interesting discussion.

One of those, for sure, is the issue of subsistence. As was pointed out in Shannyn Moore’s Moore Up North TV showed that aired last Saturday and is also available on her blog, the actual words and definitions seem to be different between us.

One thing that came out was what appears to be pretty much a total disconnect about subsistence and how we each value it and then of course try to discuss it.

It seems, and I am leaving room for this to be a generalization which is always tough, that those of us who come from more of an urban background look up the definition of subsistence:

a) The minimum (as of food and shelter) necessary to support life b) a source or means of obtaining the necessities of life.

Now armed with the definition and some time learning how that might relate to Alaska and the rural areas we feel that we understand.

Those of us who come from the rural areas of Alaska and most likely have at least some Alaska Native heritage come to this discussion with an experience that doesn’t have a ‘definition’ for subsistence.

The activity of subsistence was a full range of things. Time spent with the family, usually a number of generations, gathering, hunting, foraging for things needed to assist the daily life of your family, and sometimes the village. It is not JUST a matter of having the ‘land’ provide for your family and is also not just the act doing things as a family.

There is NO WORD in English to define what it means in Alaska, and probably many other places, to lead a ‘subsistence life’.

We also have the issue that the actual activities are changing some due to the changing of lifestyles of all our rural people.

Maybe realizing these differences makes it easier to see WHY we are having such a difficult time with this discussion of subsistence.

Just in the little bit of time I have had traveling back to my village and being able to speak to others about this example there has been a few “Ok, I can see that” moments.

So IF we can start to help the two sides come to an understanding of this inclusive word and how it might affect the entire structure of families and a culture we are onto the right track.

Having respect for the ‘other’ side, no matter where they come from or bring to the table, when trying to discuss our many issues is a good place to start and I hope we can bring some of that beginning here on Anonymous Bloggers.

~ Victoria Briggs


5 Responses to “Subsistence: The Meaning of the Word”

  1. Bill of Wasilla Says:

    While it seems that we are stuck with the word, “subsistence” for awhile, the way I have long described this word is:

    Subsistence: a poor word for a rich way of life.

  2. alaskapi Says:

    “Subsistence: a poor word for a rich way of life.”
    Excellent description! For now…
    til we learn to describe what we are really talking about :-)

  3. Man_from_Unk Says:

    To subsist is to “exist, to sustain life” and the noun ‘subsistence’ basically means “livelihood”. People everywhere in the world live off the land or the water bound resources. I can’t see how anyone would make the meaning any different.

  4. Man_from_Unk Says:

    On the topic of Subsistence, I am extremely dissappointed by the Secretary of the Interior Ken Salazar’s appointment of Tim Towarak from Unalakleet to be the Chairman of the Federal Subsistence Board in Alaska. There is something about that man’s aura that gives me the creeps. It’ll be interesting to see if he gives all people(regardless of race) equal opportunity to communicate with him in this Quasi-government role.

  5. alaskapi Says:

    Theoretically , Mr Towerak will have to do so, through people’s participation in their Regional Advisory Councils . Once again, local Councils and who stands for you will play a huge part in how this all shakes out.

    “Public Participation

    The program provides for public participation through the Federal Subsistence Board and 10 Regional Advisory Councils. The Board is the decision-making body that oversees the program. It is made up of the regional directors of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, National Park Service, Bureau of Land Management, Bureau of Indian Affairs and U.S. Forest Service. A representative appointed by the Secretaries of the Interior and Agriculture serves as chair of the Board. The Regional Advisory Councils provide recommendations and information to the Board; review proposed regulations, policies and management plans; and provide a public forum for subsistence issues. Each Council consists of residents who are knowledgeable about subsistence and other uses of fish and wildlife resources in their region. ”

    When we talk about the legal definition of subsistence –
    here federal:

    §803. As used in this Act, the term “subsistence uses” means the customary and traditional uses by rural Alaska residents of wild renewable resources for direct personal or family consumption as food, shelter, fuel, clothing, tools, or transportation; for the making and selling of handicraft articles out of nonedible byproducts of fish and wildlife resources taken for personal or family consumption; for barter, or sharing for personal or family consumption; and for customary trade. For the purposes of this section, the term–
    (1) “family” means all persons related by blood, marriage, or adoption, or any person living within the household on a permanent basis; and

    (2) “barter” means the exchange of fish or wildlife or their parts, taken for subsistence uses–

    (A) for other fish or game or their parts; or

    (B) for other food or for nonedible items other than money if the exchange is of a limited and noncommercial nature.”

    and here state (very similar):

    we are concentrating on a way to manage resources.
    When we talk about it amongst ourselves we are talking about a way of life…
    The distinction is often lost but means a great deal to how we sort out issues here.

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