The Teenage Whaler's Tale
January 5, 2020 11:09 PM   Subscribe

When a teenager from St. Lawrence Island, Alaska struck a whale for his Siberian Yupik village in April 2017, he celebrated with his family and elders. Then, the death threats came.

Julia O'Malley won the James Beard food writing award for her story about the backlash faced by Chris Apassingok, and includes another essay about Native subsistence hunting (this time set in Point Hope) in her new book of essays about Alaska food culture and community. Apassingok was the keynote speaker at the 2017 First Alaskans Institute Elders and Youth Conference.

You might also be interested in further context provided by a High Country News article about Alaska's Uncertain Food Future in an age of climate change.
posted by charmedimsure (17 comments total) 19 users marked this as a favorite
Of course Paul Watson started the harassment. Ignorant asshole....
posted by Pendragon at 2:09 AM on January 6, 2020 [5 favorites]

Watson is from Vancouver, like me. Once way way back, in the 80s, I was in some kind of parade... peace protest? Or whatever, I forget exactly. But at some point along the march, there was Fucko, on some balcony, looking down upon his subjects.

I was very happy that even then, he was met with a chorus of boos and hisses from the parade. He is a jerk.
posted by Meatbomb at 2:13 AM on January 6, 2020 [6 favorites]

The worst thing that happened to the whales was the Soviet Union. Everything else is a nothing-burger by comparison.

In the modern world, any successful attempts to reduce Japanese whaling would have far more effect than harassing a small Alaskan village.
posted by pharm at 3:50 AM on January 6, 2020 [15 favorites]

(Nothing-burger may be a slight exaggeration, but I believe the USSR out killed all the rest of historical whaling by a wide margin.)
posted by pharm at 3:52 AM on January 6, 2020

The only thing worse than whaling: Facebook. It is kind of amazing how nuance and complexity go entirely out the window when passed through a horrible low-information-content positive feedback system. Well, I guess it isn’t that amazing—it’s almost as if it were designed for that.

Speaking of complexity, free speech is how we (presumably) decide things through vigorous debate. So there’s that. But there’s also the echo chamber, which leads to self-assured neglect of alternatives. Probably best to recognize that bad comes with the good, but it’s so tempting to think there must be some simple solution that just works. I suspect that most of those simple solutions end badly.

I hope that the young man recognizes that there is no way some tug job from the Internet is ever going to bother him in real life. I even more hope that that is true, since there are so many tug jobs.
posted by Gilgamesh's Chauffeur at 5:55 AM on January 6, 2020 [2 favorites]

I've been a vegetarian for more years than that kid's been alive, but I know that some people in some places can't survive without hunting. His people have been through more than enough, they shouldn't have to listen to the bleating of the fat, comfortable colonizers demanding that their communities vanish to make up for OUR over-exploitation of the sea.
posted by 1adam12 at 7:50 AM on January 6, 2020 [24 favorites]

Oh what utter horseshit. This is a stunning feat that he should be proud of. It sounds like he's an extremely gifted kid. I will admit that my heart twinged when I read the whale was 200 years old. But i'm viewing this from a white westerner perspective - the same perspective that led to over-fishing and population decimation in the first place. White leftist views on meat eating, which i know is a fraught subject, are informed by the ways in which we've used colonialism and imperialism to destroy ecosystems. We should be cautious about the way we consume. But you can't apply that here, the situations aren't even remotely the same. This whale didn't grow up in captivity, it was killed quickly and slaughtered quickly, and it alone is helping to feed some 700+ people. If* there is a natural way for humans to eat meat, this is it.

Anyway Watson should be charged with inciting violence. Or something. You cant just sick hundreds or thousands of people on a child. christ, what an asshole.

*I personally have no moral qualms with eating meat as a blanket concept.
posted by FirstMateKate at 7:54 AM on January 6, 2020 [13 favorites]

Great, now I want a meat blanket.
posted by Molesome at 8:36 AM on January 6, 2020 [7 favorites]

It's not necessarily problematic (or white, western or leftist) to have and publicly express qualms about killing animals in general and 200 year old highly intelligent animals in particular, even in the context of cultural traditions and subsistence hunting, provided you don't ignore the context and complexity of the situation and don't instead treat it as just another stick with which to beat marginalised communities. But I suppose it's a fool's errand to expect Watson not to be a gigantic dick about whatever he happens to have weighed in on.
posted by inire at 9:05 AM on January 6, 2020 [14 favorites]

posted by rhamphorhynchus at 9:06 AM on January 6, 2020

There should be a name for viciously punching-down ostensibly in service to a progressive value. "Inadvertent unmasking" doesn't quite do it justice.
posted by Ivan Fyodorovich at 1:54 PM on January 6, 2020 [3 favorites]

posted by ominous_paws at 2:54 PM on January 6, 2020 [6 favorites]

I think we can simultaneously believe that killing whales is bad no matter who does it, and also believe that the people harassing Apassingok are jerks.
posted by 256 at 11:35 AM on January 7, 2020 [2 favorites]

Yeah, I cannot exactly cheer for whaling, but... I'm pretty sure that ship-strike by ships coming into San Francisco harbor, bringing me stuff, kills way more whales than Alaskan aboriginal people, so it seems an exceedingly hypocritical place to start acting superior and harassing people.
posted by tavella at 5:14 PM on January 7, 2020 [3 favorites]

if you are living you have killed something to survive. There is NO ONE on earth that has not brutalized living things to survive. What NGOs should be focusing on is the horrifying *efficiency* of modern farming and harvesting of other things on this planet. This kid fed his village in one of the few places in the world where people really don't have luxury of choice.

(FYI plants are living creatures. You just can't hear them scream, so it's better? I guess?)
posted by concreteforest at 8:03 PM on January 7, 2020

Yes, it is in fact better to kill things that are not sentient creatures with memory and self awareness, that really isn't really a question. Being aware of what is required for a native culture surviving that far north, and what our own cultures kill invisibly, does not require us to unleash dumb thoughts like "killing a 200 year old whale is just the same as killing a carrot".
posted by tavella at 9:14 PM on January 7, 2020

I’m on the far side of 40 now and haven’t eaten a bird or mammal since I was 14. I’m still not ready to ask that the indigenous residents of a tiny Alaskan village off the road system abandon their traditional practices (even if there were economically reasonable ways to entirely abandon subsistence living there, which I genuinely believe there are not). It’s nuanced and complicated; the modern world and the not-so-modern interact in strange and hard-to-predict ways in small isolated communities in this state. I appreciate that the story presented a view into lives that it’s easy to forget about from my own urban Alaskan household and I’m glad to have writers in my community who are actively trying to amplify Alaskan voices that might not otherwise be heard.
posted by charmedimsure at 11:42 PM on January 7, 2020 [4 favorites]

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