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Fred Lee Bifelt

Fred Lee Bifelt was interviewed on July 24, 1992 by Wendy Arundale in Huslia, Alaska. At the time of the interview, Fred was one of the younger leaders of the Huslia community. Because it was fishing season at the time of the interview, and Fred Lee was busy getting in fish for his family and dogs, it was hard for us to find a time to tape. On my last day, however, we got together at the village office for a very articulate and effective interview. We worked during the early afternoon. We began by discussing the Alaska Native Claims Settlement Act, how Fred had learned about it in school, and how he saw it having an impact on his people and his community. His account of how he gradually learned about the act and its implications is very informative. He talked about how the village corporations have had to learn about business the hard way, making mistakes early on and acting more astutely with experience.

We also discussed subsistence, and Fred Lee talked about his frustrating experiences serving on a Fish and Game Advisory Board. He spoke of how he wished federal agencies would really listen to and work with local people. So many outsiders have little respect for the extensive local knowledge in rural communities. When I asked him for his view on appropriate management, he talked about the need for more local control, not simply an advisory role for local people. He also noted that managers need to place more value on local knowledge and on-the-ground experience. Instead, it often seems that only the information gained through a college degree is considered worthwhile.

From Fred Lee's point of view, the lack of employment is the most crucial local issue his community faces. He believes that if there were reasonable jobs available, many of the serious social problems that afflict rural villages would largely disappear. He noted how hard it is to feel good about yourself when you can't work. He also talked about tolerance and the importance of teaching his children that at a basic level there's no difference between people. He sees getting along with and being able to learn from people who aren't Indian as important skills for his children to learn. At the same time, he believes respect must be mutual, for prejudice runs both ways.

Ultimately, Fred Lee views subsistence as remaining a key element in Native people's future. It is the backbone of Native life and must always be there for Native people. Resource development will be needed too, but it must be compatible with continuing subsistence.

Digital Asset Information

Archive #: Oral History 93-15-48

Project: Gates of the Arctic National Park
Date of Interview: Jul 24, 1992
Narrator(s): Fred Lee Bifelt
Interviewer(s): Wendy Arundale
Location of Interview:
Funding Partners:
National Park Service
Alternate Transcripts
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1) Personal background

2) His early recollections of the Land Claims Settlement

3) His involvement with the Native corporations

4) Obstacles from the very start of Native corporations

5) The subsistence issue

6) The effects of subsistence issues as a head of household

7) His views on a more appropriate management approach

8) Advice for employees of Gates of the Arctic National Park

9) Other important concerns for Native people

10) Approach to the future

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Section 1: born -- 1958, Huslia\ Galena -- high school\ University of Alaska -- Fairbanks, one year\ Huslia\ subsistence\ children -- three\ jobs -- strong work ethic; variety\ future -- go back to college|

Section 2: land claims -- first heard in 1970; seventh or eighth grade\ school -- studied it\ change -- more power came from settlement\ politics -- Natives involved as necessity, not because they chose it\ education -- legislative process convinced people of the need for it|

Section 3: village corporation\ K'oyitl'ots'ina'\ consolidation\ Huslia\ Hughes\ Allakaket\ Alatna\ projects -- many attempts, many failures\ experience -- lack of\ board of directors\ philosophy -- conservative\ construction\ grocery store\ gas station\ shareholders\ stock market -- portfolio\ assessment -- people are learning|

Section 4: consultants -- never before in business, Natives had to rely upon outside advice\ lawyers -- took advantage\ corporations -- relationship between village and regional\ finances\ Alaska Native Claims Settlement Act -- 7(I) revenue|

Section 5: subsistence -- living off the land; everyday activity\ hard times -- no money; good life, but times of want\ hunting\ fishing\ consumption -- personal\ fish camps -- can't glorify the life; missed things too|

Section 6: subsistence -- not big issue\ Alaska Department of Fish and Game\ Alaska Department of Fish and Game Advisory Committee -- local management proposals not given fair hearing\ Game Board -- ignoring recommendations\ concerns -- influx of hunters up the Koyukuk River\ subsistence -- current administration is anti-subsistence; pro big-guide|

Section 7: authority -- more local control; not simple advisory role\ knowledge -- more emphasis on real experience, less on college degrees\ school -- has its place, but can't get some knowledge from a book\ values -- managers should learn from Native ethics regarding animals and hunting\ sovereignty -- people talk of it because they need more control than they currently have|

Section 8: prejudice -- runs both ways\ respect -- must be mutual and recognize what each has to offer\ communication -- need to break down barriers\ education -- learn from each other|

Section 9: income -- need for more opportunities\ agencies -- need to do more local hiring\ Galena\ Gates of the Arctic\ social problems\ alcohol\ drug abuse -- symptoms of deeper problem\ self esteem -- low\ suicide\ employment\ culture change -- devastating\ culture shock|

Section 10: subsistence -- backbone of Native life, always there for us\ money -- need healthy marriage with subsistence\ resource development -- those compatible with continued subsistence\ rural preference -- don't agree; should be based on need\ Native preference -- everybody belongs\ values -- we're all one people, need to get along\ children -- teaching them to learn from everybody\ universal view -- old ideas among Natives and non-Natives hurt us all|