Sealaska Heritage


<<back to news page


Free event to be offered virtually

March 17, 2021

(About the Lecturer) (Flyer)

Sealaska Heritage Institute (SHI) will host a free lecture this Thursday on how Yup’ik Elders and fishermen asserted their subsistence rights along the Kuskokwim River.

The lecture, Kuskokwim River Traditional Salmon Fishing: A Religious Practice, will be given by Taylor Brelsford.

The Yup’ik people of the Kuskokwim River managed their fishing activities under traditional beliefs and practices through the advent of state management in the 1950s, Brelsford wrote. The region was prominent in protecting these cultural and religious practices through advocating for subsistence protection laws and creating co-management bodies.

However, catastrophic Chinook runs starting in 2010 severely strained working relations between users and managers and exposed limitations in existing protections. Although Yup’ik traditions caution against conflict, in June 2012 local families defied an extended closure with the support of several tribal governments. Law enforcement responded with 61 citations and seizure of over a thousand pounds of fish and dozens of nets.

In the legal aftermath, Yup’ik Elders and fishermen asserted that their fishing was a religious-based activity. The courts for the first time recognized that religious basis, but also concluded that this right must be balanced with the conservation responsibility of the Alaska Department of Fish and Game.

Concurrently, the tribes created the Kuskokwim River Inter-Tribal Fisheries Commission, asserting that tribes are the best entities to protect these cultural practices.

Extended negotiations with the federal government resulted in a memorandum of understanding in 2016 that strengthened both the tribal role and recognized Yup’ik decision-making norms.

The presentation, which is scheduled for Thursday, March 18, is part of a lecture series focusing on subsistence in Alaska Native communities and factors that impact traditional subsistence practices.

All lectures will be livestreamed at 12 pm Alaska time on SHI’s YouTube channel, and available for viewing on YouTube any time after the livestream (no account required).

This program is provided under the Preparing Indigenous Teachers and Administrators for Alaska Schools (PITAAS) program and funded by the Alaska Native Education Program.

About the Lecturer

Taylor Brelsford worked in applied environmental anthropology, focusing on strengthening the standing for Alaska Native peoples to speak in their "direct voice" in state and federal resource management. This included a decade of work in research, tribal program advocacy and university teaching while living in Western Alaska villages. He then served for 15 years in the Federal Subsistence Management Program developing the innovative regional advisory council program and the social science component of an interdisciplinary subsistence fisheries research program. In the past decade, Mr. Brelsford led several large-scale environmental reviews of major development projects affecting Alaska Native communities, including the Donlin Gold Project on the Kuskokwim River.

Sealaska Heritage Institute is a private nonprofit founded in 1980 to perpetuate and enhance Tlingit, Haida and Tsimshian cultures of Southeast Alaska. Its goal is to promote cultural diversity and cross-cultural understanding through public services and events. SHI also conducts social scientific and public policy research that promotes Alaska Native arts, cultures, history and education statewide. The institute is governed by a Board of Trustees and guided by a Council of Traditional Scholars, a Native Artist Committee and a Southeast Regional Language Committee.

CONTACT: Amy Fletcher, SHI Media and Publications Director, 907.586.9116,