Make prayers to the Raven
In June 2014 the Atlantic Magazine published an interesting article entitled "When Global Warming Kills your God", about conflicts between the traditional beliefs of native Alaskans and modern environmental laws and new problems being caused by global warming in the Bethel area of western Alaska. Just 50 years ago most native Alaskans in Bethel and throughout the state lived almost entirely on things like whale meat, fish, moose, caribou, birds and birds eggs, berries, and anything else they could find, catch or kill around their villages. Native culture and native religion was intertwined with seasonally driven shifts from fishing to hunting to gathering, and with the animistic belief that the animals around them in Alaska were intelligent and spiritual creatures much like themselves. For instance the Koyukon People of Alaska traditionally prayed to Ravens and believed that in the "Distant Time" many animals could speak Koyukon, and people had been transformed into animals by magic. These old gods were largely abandoned by native Alaskans when Christianity was introduced into Alaska during the 19th century.
Today, most native Alaskans get a large proportion of their calories from store bought food. Almost every native village has a small store where people can buy coca-cola, ice cream bars, fiery hot cheetos, cans of spaghetti and other necessities of modern American life. But almost every native village also has a group of people who remember the way their parents lived off the land, and would like to return to that lifestyle today.
However, in the modern world, things like hunting that were once both traditional and spiritual are now controlled by state and federal regulations. There are limits on how many fish can be taken and when hunting can be done and when it can't be done, and some things that were formerly hunted, like whales, are specifically protected by laws. Through a long struggle, native people in Alaska have won the right to continue some of their traditional subsistence practices. Aleut people in northern Alaska have returned to hunting whales in the fall. People along the Koyukuk River are again allowed to collect the eggs of geese who migrate to their region. And in many parts of Alaska recent court rulings and special regulations issued from the State of Alaska allow native Alaskan to catch large numbers of salmon with nets, as they have done for thousands of years.
The struggle for traditional hunting and fishing rights being carried out by native Alaskans has so far brought them into conflict only with various state and federal agencies that enforce environmental regulations and hunting and fishing laws. When arrests are made and the cases go to court, the courts are often sympathetic to the traditional practices of native people. IN some cases the legal cases that go to court invoke the ancient animistic beliefs of native Alaskans as a way to show a special relationship exists between native Alaskans and the natural world around them.
Global Warming may soon introduce another difficulty as warming temperatures is likely to cause dramatic changes to the Alaska landscape. Shrubs are starting to grow where there was only tundra, and forests are advance into areas formerly dominated by shrubs. Permafrost is melting, and water temperatures are warming both in rivers and in coastal waters. Sea Ice that once lasted into the summer around the coastline of northern Alaska is now melting in the spring and retreating far out into the Arctic Ocean. The future effects of events like this on the number and range of birds, animals and fish in Alaska can't be predicted with certainty, but almost certainly things will be very different when Global Warming starts to change the environment and force animals to move or adapt to new environemtnts, and in some places, kills off the old gods entirely.