Enbridge Line 93

Mary Annette Pember
Indian Country Today

ANISHINAABE LANDS — Line 3 is dead. Long live Line 93.

Enbridge’s controversial Line 3 construction project is complete.

“The Line 3 replacement project/Line 93 came into service on Friday, October 1, as expected through N(orth) Dakota and Minnesota,” Juli Kellner, communications specialist for Enbridge, said in an email to Indian Country Today.

And with that, Line 3 will be deactivated, according to Kellner.

Enbridge series pipeline - Enbridge logo

After nearly 8 years of Indigenous and citizen opposition that saw numerous protests and arrests in Minnesota and Wisconsin, and a string of state, federal and tribal court filings, it appears that the corporate giant has won.

Not so, say Indigenous and non-Native water protectors.

As clean-up begins and more construction accidents come to light, water protectors are claiming victory on a number of fronts.

Members of Indigenous advocacy organizations such as Honor the Earth and the Indigenous Environmental Network as well as tribal grassroots pipeline opponents say that the fight against Line 3 helped focus the world’s attention on what they describe as an untenable corporate push to build fossil fuel infrastructure projects at the expense of the environment.

“Line 3 is a crime against the environment and Indigenous rights, waters and lands and it marks the end of the tar sands era — but not the resistance to it,” said Winona LaDuke, executive director of Honor the Earth.

LaDuke, a citizen of the White Earth Ojibwe Nation, praised the actions of water protectors opposing the pipeline.

“Your brave efforts have reshaped the world’s views on the climate crisis that we are in,” she said.

Signs near the Firelight water protector camp along country Highway 2 near Bagley, Minnesota, on Oct. 4, 2021. (Photo by Mary Annette Pember/Indian Country Today)

Signs near the Firelight water protector camp along country Highway 2 near Bagley, Minnesota, on Oct. 4, 2021. (Photo by Mary Annette Pember/Indian Country Today)

On Oct. 11, Indigenous Peoples’ Day, activists kicked off a week of protests calling out President Joe Biden for failing to stop Line 3, and for failing to meet his promises on addressing climate change and protecting Indigenous treaty rights and lands. On Oct. 14, dozens of Indigenous leaders held a sit-in at the Interior Department in Washington, D.C., in an effort to stop extractive fossil fuel industry projects such as Line 3.

The Indigenous Environmental Network issued a statement questioning Enbridge’s rosy outlook on the project.

“Although Enbridge is pushing the message that Line 3 is a done deal and that they followed all the rules and regulations, we can see even at this late date the continuing harm to our lands and waters,” the statement said. “There have been spills, frac-outs and pierced aquifers even to this day.”

Enbridge’s decision to change the name of Line 3 to Line 93 further confirms what water protectors knew all along, said Taysha Martineau, founder of Camp Migizi, a camp for water protectors opposing Line 3.

“We stated from the beginning that this was an entirely new pipeline project,” said Martineau, a citizen of the Fond du Lac Band of Ojibwe.

Negative fallout

Although Enbridge has repeatedly framed the pipeline construction as a safety-based replacement project for the 32-inch Line 3, Line 93 is 34 inches wide, allowing it to carry tar sands oil that Line 3 could not.

Leaders of the White Earth and Red Lake Bands of Ojibwe and Line 3 opponents insist that the negative fallout from pipeline construction continues.

Frank Bibeau, attorney for and citizen of the White Earth Band of Ojibwe, said the pipeline construction exacerbated already low water levels and endangered the health of manoomin or wild rice.

In a unique rights of nature lawsuit filed in White Earth tribal court, tribal citizens accuse the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources of failing to protect the state’s fresh water by allowing Enbridge to pump up to five million gallons of additional water from construction trenches. That case is ongoing.

In January, Enbridge construction crews accidentally pierced an artesian aquifer near Clearbrook, Minnesota, causing the aquifer to lose about 24 million gallons of groundwater. The Department of Natural Resources learned about the accident in June when independent monitors reported seeing water pooling in ditches, according to a report issued by the agency.

“Enbridge began work at the Clearbrook Terminal site in early 2021 but did not follow the construction plans it provided to the DNR,” according to the report.

Enbridge erected a protective boom, shown here on Oct. 4, 2021,  around a frac-out of drilling fluid along the Mississippi River near Solway, Minnesota. (Photo by Mary Annette Pember/Indian Country Today)

Enbridge erected a protective boom, shown here on Oct. 4, 2021, around a frac-out of drilling fluid along the Mississippi River near Solway, Minnesota. (Photo by Mary Annette Pember/Indian Country Today)

In September, the agency ordered Enbridge to pay $3.32 million in penalties, including $300,000 to pay for loss of groundwater as well as create a restoration plan to stop the groundwater flow within 30 days. The agency is also investigating two additional sites of artesian aquifer breaches by the company, but did not disclose the locations.

The Department of Natural Resources has referred the breaches to the Clearwater County attorney where the company could face criminal charges.

On Oct. 17, the agency reported that Enbridge failed to meet a deadline to clean up the ruptured aquifer near Clearbrook and announced that Enbridge must pay compensation for the additional time it takes to stop the flow of groundwater.

Kellner said the company is working with state and local officials.

“Enbridge is fully cooperating with the Minnesota DNR in correcting uncontrolled groundwater flows at Clearbrook and is working with the DNR as two other locations are being evaluated,” she wrote.

Enbridge tanks sit at the company's terminal in Superior, Wisconsin, on Oct. 8, 2021, the destination of petroleum products flowing through the newly completed Line 93. (Photo by Mary Annette Pember/Indian Country Today)

Enbridge tanks sit at the company’s terminal in Superior, Wisconsin, on Oct. 8, 2021, the destination of petroleum products flowing through the newly completed Line 93. (Photo by Mary Annette Pember/Indian Country Today)

LaDuke called the company’s failure to meet the deadline alarming.

“If Enbridge can’t meet basic safety requirements, they should not be allowed to operate a pipeline,” she said. “It doesn’t bode well for the future.”

In August, the Minnesota Public Pollution Control Agency reported that Enbridge created 28 spills of drilling mud during the summer. The agency confirmed the spills in response to a letter from Minnesota Democratic Farm Labor Party lawmakers demanding an accurate account of the spills.

“Our friends have reported frac-outs further down from the headwaters of the Mississippi,” Bibeau said.

“We are looking into doing a thermal imaging flight over the pipeline to see where all the damage is because we don’t think the DNR or the Public Pollution Control Agency is actually investigating these locations,” he said.

Earlier this month, Ron Turney of the Indigenous Environmental Network and members of Honor the Earth took Indian Country Today via canoe to an Enbridge frac-out location near the headwaters of the Mississippi River.

Turney, a citizen of the White Earth Band of Ojibwe, has been using a drone camera to monitor the pipeline. The location, near Solway, Minnesota, is not accessible on foot or visible from the road. A large boom surrounded the area where opaque white material appeared to rest on top of the water.

Igniting a movement

On Oct. 2, Honor the Earth sponsored a celebration on Madeline Island in Wisconsin of traditional Ojibwe subsistence food and activities as a means to celebrate water protector victories fighting Line 3.

The event coincided with Treaty Day, a commemoration of the signing of the Treaty of 1854 at the town of LaPointe on Madeline Island. In this treaty, the Ojibwe established reservations in their traditional homelands and retained rights to hunt, fish and gather.

Water protector celebration

Water protectors gathered at Madeline Island in Wisconsin in October 2021.

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Madeline Island or Mooningwanekaaning, “home of the yellow-breasted flicker,” is considered a sacred place by Ojibwe and the birthplace of the tribe’s traditional religion.

About 150 people gathered to share traditional activities such as butchering sturgeon, parching wild rice, feasting, dancing, singing and playing lacrosse.

“We used to survive on this island,” said Paul DeMain, a citizen of the Ojibwe and Oneida tribes and an Honor the Earth board member who was among those at the celebration. “To me, it’s a productive fortress, a place of healing.”

DeMain said water protectors were bound to lose in the massively unequal fight with a global corporate giant such as Enbridge. Among the victories, however, was that the fight focused the world’s attention on the impact of ongoing reliance on fossil fuel on climate change and the preservation of the Earth.

“We came here to celebrate our victories over the fossil fuel industry, our survival and to heal our trauma of watching our people get arrested, harassed, beaten and hurt,” DeMain said.

“We came here to show we could feast in camaraderie with the rich, poor, Indigenous and non-Indigenous and work on forging a path ahead.”

This article contains material from The Associated Press. 

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Re: National Day of Remembrance for Native American Children

Lakota Law

Many thanks to all of you who, over the past months, read our blog about the discoveries of mass graves of Indigenous children at Indian boarding school campuses. Thanks also to you who signed our petition to the president and Congress to form a Truth and Healing Commission. Today, I write to you with some good news and a follow-up action to take!

On Sept. 30 — the National Day of Remembrance for Native American Children — Sen. Elizabeth Warren and Reps. Sharice Davids and Tom Cole reintroduced a bill that will form just such a commission. This bill was formerly introduced by Sen. Warren and U.S. Interior Secretary Deb Haaland (when she was a N.M. congresswoman). Now, it’s time for all of us to make sure this important legislation gets passed! Please write to your congressional reps and tell them: vote to enact the Truth and Healing Commission on Indian Boarding School Policies in the United States Act!

Lakota Law

Stolen babies: Generations of Native children were forced to attend boarding schools like the Carlisle Indian Industrial School, which stripped them of their cultures and identities — and, too often, their lives.

I shared with you a couple months ago about my own familial experiences with boarding schools. I told you about the horrific practices that endangered and took the lives of Native children across Turtle Island. Now, against the backdrop of these mass grave discoveries, we must do all we can to ensure lawmakers take genocide seriously. It’s time to begin an official reckoning with America’s true history and a process that can aid in the healing of our tribal communities.

Please show your solidarity with me, my ancestors, and the generations to come. Your advocacy matters. Together, we can begin to make things better.

Wopila tanka — thank you for standing up for truth and healing!
Madonna Thunder Hawk
Cheyenne River Organizer
The Lakota People’s Law Project

Indigenous People´s Day

Osiyo,

Today — Indigenous Peoples Day (IPD) — marks the highlight of the Indigenous year. I hope you will join us as we gather to celebrate, heal, and re-Indigenize. This long weekend represents a reprieve from trauma, sadness, and grief as we travel with good hearts to see close family and distant relatives, celebrate together, and share our cultures. 

As you likely know, many places do not yet celebrate with us. They’re still celebrating Columbus Day, perpetuating the myth that Christopher Columbus discovered so-called America. Columbus arrived on October 12, 1492 on Taino homelands. This first voyage was a reconnaissance mission wherein he later established La Navidad in present-day Haiti — America’s first colony. The following fall, he returned with an invasion force of 17 ships and 1,500 soldiers. He found La Navidad destroyed by Taino People, who had retaliated against rapes and murders carried out by the Spaniards.

Watch: Giniw Collective’s Tara Houska talks about the journey of Indigenous Peoples of these lands historically until the present day.

European weapons (like cannons and muskets), armor, horses, and dogs soon overwhelmed the Indigenous warriors, who were armed only with clubs and spears. Celebrating Columbus, therefore, condones genocide and colonization. Many think of these issues as only existing in the past. But these systems, set in motion hundreds of years ago by Columbus and other conquistadors, continue. All Taino homelands, from Puerto Rico to the Bahamas, remain colonized today — many by the United States. 

To combat the Columbus-as-hero narrative, we’re working to replace Columbus Day with IPD everywhere. Our hope is that more people like you will come together with us, as Indigenous People focus throughout the long weekend on empowerment through solidarity and sharing pathways to action. 

Watch Tara Houska’s Ted Talk. As our skilled Anishinaabe relative points out, many of these struggles are deeply rooted in trauma. But today is about sharing successes within our sustained resistance to colonization. We see ourselves in the faces of our relatives while they reflect on Indigenous sovereignty, land and water rights, education, economic development, language preservation and promotion, and religious freedom. 

Our celebrations feature Indigenous poets, musicians, artists, singers, leaders, and performers from across Turtle Island, who offer their gifts. Everyone who attends an event can actively participate in round dancing and be uplifted by traditional prayers. The overwhelming feelings of celebration and open-heartedness are palpable. This is the chance for settlers and non-Natives to catch us in our most generous mindset. As we come together across nations to actively decolonize and re-Indigenize our communities and share our gifts, I hope you will join a celebration in your area.

Wado — thank you for your ongoing solidarity with our Indigenous nations.
Sarah Rose Harper
Social Media Coordinator
The Lakota People’s Law Project

Bears Ears

Lindsay Whitehurst
Associated Press

SALT LAKE CITY — President Joe Biden will expand two sprawling national monuments in Utah that have been at the center of a public lands tug-of-war that has played out over three presidential administrations, the state’s governor said Thursday.

Gov. Spencer Cox, a Republican, released a statement expressing disappointment in a decision by the administration to expand Bears Ears National Monuments and Grand Staircase-Escalante, which were downsized significantly under President Donald Trump. 

They cover vast expanses of southern Utah where red rocks reveal petroglyphs and cliff dwellings and distinctive twin buttes bulge from a grassy valley. The Trump administration cut Bears Ears, on lands considered sacred to Native American tribes, by 85 percent and slashed Grand Staircase-Escalante by nearly half. 

Cox’s statement did not include specifics how much of the monuments Biden plans to restore, and the White House and the U.S. Interior Department declined immediate comment. 

Cox noted he had offered to work with the administration on a legislative solution.

“The president’s decision to enlarge the monuments again is a tragic missed opportunity — it fails to provide certainty as well as the funding for law enforcement, research, and other protections which the monuments need and which only Congressional action can offer,” he said in the statement released with other state leaders. 

Hopi Chairman Timothy L. Nuvangyaoma said he is “happy” and “grateful for the advocacy of all those related to protecting Bears Ears and for the Hopi tribe” because it means a lot to the clan memberships. 

“For Hopi, this is a significant step forward and the Biden administration did make some commitments to listen to Native America and Biden’s actions does prove that it is happening. We do need to protect these sacred sites that not only the Hopi tribe but other tribes find significant within their history.”

The chairman said he and the vice chairman will be headed to Washington, D.C. 

Interior Secretary Deb Haaland, the first Indigenous Cabinet secretary, traveled to Utah in April to tour the area before preparing a formal recommendation to President Biden. 

Haaland, Laguna Pueblo, visited the monuments, becoming the latest federal official to step into what has been a years-long public lands controversy. https://platform.twitter.com/embed/Tweet.html?dnt=false&embedId=twitter-widget-0&features=eyJ0ZndfZXhwZXJpbWVudHNfY29va2llX2V4cGlyYXRpb24iOnsiYnVja2V0IjoxMjA5NjAwLCJ2ZXJzaW9uIjpudWxsfSwidGZ3X2hvcml6b25fdHdlZXRfZW1iZWRfOTU1NSI6eyJidWNrZXQiOiJodGUiLCJ2ZXJzaW9uIjpudWxsfSwidGZ3X3NwYWNlX2NhcmQiOnsiYnVja2V0Ijoib2ZmIiwidmVyc2lvbiI6bnVsbH19&frame=false&hideCard=false&hideThread=false&id=1380219354378342404&lang=en&origin=https%3A%2F%2Findiancountrytoday.com%2Fnews%2Fjoe-biden-to-expand-2-utah-national-monuments&sessionId=b31246f3cd0f7ee7df9267183db6a84aa51009f5&theme=light&widgetsVersion=fcb1942%3A1632982954711&width=550px

Utah Sen. Mitt Romney also criticized Biden by saying in a tweet Thursday that he “squandered the opportunity to build consensus” and find a permanent solution for the monuments.

“Yet again, Utah’s national monuments are being used as a political football between administrations,” Romney said. “The decision to re-expand the boundaries of Bears Ears and Grand Staircase-Escalante is a devastating blow to our state, local and tribal leaders and our delegation … today’s “winner take all” mentality moved us further away from that goal.”

Jennifer Rokala, executive director of the Center for Western Priorities, applauded Biden’s decision and said she hopes it marks an initial step toward his goal of conserving at least 30 percent of U.S. lands and ocean by 2030.

“Thank you, President Biden,” Rokala said in a statement. “You have listened to Indigenous tribes and the American people and ensured these landscapes will be protected for generations to come.”https://platform.twitter.com/embed/Tweet.html?dnt=false&embedId=twitter-widget-1&features=eyJ0ZndfZXhwZXJpbWVudHNfY29va2llX2V4cGlyYXRpb24iOnsiYnVja2V0IjoxMjA5NjAwLCJ2ZXJzaW9uIjpudWxsfSwidGZ3X2hvcml6b25fdHdlZXRfZW1iZWRfOTU1NSI6eyJidWNrZXQiOiJodGUiLCJ2ZXJzaW9uIjpudWxsfSwidGZ3X3NwYWNlX2NhcmQiOnsiYnVja2V0Ijoib2ZmIiwidmVyc2lvbiI6bnVsbH19&frame=false&hideCard=false&hideThread=false&id=1446238172774637571&lang=en&origin=https%3A%2F%2Findiancountrytoday.com%2Fnews%2Fjoe-biden-to-expand-2-utah-national-monuments&sessionId=b31246f3cd0f7ee7df9267183db6a84aa51009f5&theme=light&widgetsVersion=fcb1942%3A1632982954711&width=550px

Trump’s cuts ironically increased the national attention to Bears Ears, Rokala said. She called on the federal government to increase funding to manage the landscape and handle growing crowds.

Interior Secretary Deb Haaland, the first Indigenous Cabinet secretary, traveled to Utah in April to visit the monuments, becoming the latest federal official to step into what has been a yearslong public lands battle.

Former President Barack Obama proclaimed Bears Ears a national monument in 2016. The site was the first to receive the designation at the specific request of tribes.

The Bears Ears buttes, which overlook a grassy valley, are considered a place of worship for many tribes, according to Pat Gonzales-Rogers, executive director of the Bears Ears Inter-Tribal Coalition. The group incudes the Hopi Tribe, Navajo Nation, Ute Mountain Ute Tribe, Pueblo of Zuni and Ute Indian Tribe.

The Trump administration’s reductions to Bears Ears and Grand Staircase-Escalante paved the way for potential coal mining and oil and gas drilling on lands that were previously off-limits. However, activity was limited because of market forces.

Conservative state leaders considered the size of both monuments U.S. government overreach and applauded the reductions.

Environmental, tribal, paleontological and outdoor recreation organizations sued to restore the monuments’ original boundaries, arguing presidents lack legal authority to change monuments their predecessors created. Meanwhile, Republicans argued Democratic presidents have misused the Antiquities Act signed by President Theodore Roosevelt to designate monuments beyond what’s necessary to protect archaeological and cultural resources.

The administration has said the decision to review the monuments was part of an expansive plan to tackle climate change and reverse the Trump administration’s “harmful” policies.

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Indian Country Today contributed to this report.

Environmental Loss

https://us.yahoo.com/news/alaskas-vanishing-salmon-push-yukon-150805244.html

APTOPIX Yukon River Disappearing Salmon Michael Williams scans the shoreline for moose while traveling up the Yukon River on Tuesday, Sept. 14, 2021, near Stevens Village, Alaska. For the first time in memory, both king and chum salmon have dwindled to almost nothing and the state has banned salmon fishing on the Yukon. The remote communities that dot the river and live off its bounty are desperate and doubling down on moose and caribou hunts in the waning days of fall. (AP Photo/Nathan Howard)

NATHAN HOWARD and GILLIAN FLACCUSSat, October 2, 2021, 9:08 AM

STEVENS VILLAGE, Alaska (AP) — In a normal year, the smokehouses and drying racks that Alaska Natives use to prepare salmon to tide them through the winter would be heavy with fish meat, the fruits of a summer spent fishing on the Yukon River like generations before them.

This year, there are no fish. For the first time in memory, both king and chum salmon have dwindled to almost nothing and the state has banned salmon fishing on the Yukon, even the subsistence harvests that Alaska Natives rely on to fill their freezers and pantries for winter. The remote communities that dot the river and live off its bounty — far from road systems and easy, affordable shopping — are desperate and doubling down on moose and caribou hunts in the waning days of fall.

“Nobody has fish in their freezer right now. Nobody,” said Giovanna Stevens, 38, a member of the Stevens Village tribe who grew up harvesting salmon at her family’s fish camp. “We have to fill that void quickly before winter gets here.”

Opinions on what led to the catastrophe vary, but those studying it generally agree human-caused climate change is playing a role as the river and the Bering Sea warm, altering the food chain in ways that aren’t yet fully understood. Many believe commercial trawling operations that scoop up wild salmon along with their intended catch, as well as competition from hatchery-raised salmon in the ocean, have compounded global warming’s effects on one of North America’s longest rivers.

The assumption that salmon that aren’t fished make it back to their native river to lay eggs may no longer hold up because of changes in both the ocean and river environments, said Stephanie Quinn-Davidson, who has worked on Yukon River salmon issues for a decade and is the Alaska Venture Fund’s program director for fisheries and communities.

King, or chinook, salmon have been in decline for more than a decade, but chum salmon were more plentiful until last year. This year, summer chum numbers plummeted and numbers of fall chum — which travel farther upriver — are dangerously low.

“Everyone wants to know, ‘What is the one smoking gun? What is the one thing we can point to and stop?’” she said of the collapse. “People are reluctant to point to climate change because there isn’t a clear solution … but it’s probably the biggest factor here.”

Many Alaska Native communities are outraged they are paying the price for generations of practices beyond their control that have caused climate change — and many feel state and federal authorities aren’t doing enough to bring Indigenous voices to the table. The scarcity has made raw strong emotions about who should have the right to fish in a state that supplies the world with salmon, and underscores the powerlessness many Alaska Natives feel as traditional resources dwindle.

The nearly 2,000-mile-long (3,200-kilometer) Yukon River starts in British Columbia and drains an area larger than Texas in both Canada and Alaska as it cuts through the lands of Athabascan, Yup’ik and other tribes.

The crisis is affecting both subsistence fishing in far-flung outposts and fish processing operations that employ tribal members in communities along the lower Yukon and its tributaries.

“In the tribal villages, our people are livid. They’re extremely angry that we are getting penalized for what others are doing,” said P.J. Simon, chairman and chief of the Tanana Chiefs Conference, a consortium of 42 tribal villages in the Alaska interior. “As Alaska Natives, we have a right to this resource. We have a right to have a say in how things are drawn up and divvied up.”

More than a half-dozen Alaska Native groups have petitioned for federal aid, and they want the state’s federal delegation to hold a hearing in Alaska on the salmon crisis. The groups also seek federal funding for more collaborative research on effects that ocean changes are having on returning salmon.

Citing the warming ocean, Republican Gov. Mike Dunleavy requested a federal disaster declaration for the salmon fishery this month and has helped coordinate airlifts of about 90,000 pounds (41,000 kilograms) of fish to needy villages. The salmon crisis is one of the governor’s top priorities, said Rex Rock Jr., Dunleavy’s advisor for rural affairs and Alaska Native economic development.

That’s done little to appease remote villages that are dependent on salmon to get through winter, when snow paralyzes the landscape and temperatures can dip to minus 20 degrees Fahrenheit (minus 29 C) or lower.

Families traditionally spend the summer at fish camps using nets and fish wheels to snag adult salmon as they migrate inland from the ocean to the place where they hatched so they can spawn. The salmon is prepared for storage a variety of ways: dried for jerky, cut into fillets that are frozen, canned in half-pint jars or preserved in wooden barrels with salt.

Without those options, communities are under intense pressure to find other protein sources. In the Alaska interior, the nearest road system is often dozens of miles away, and it can take hours by boat, snow machine or even airplane to reach a grocery store.

Store-bought food is prohibitively expensive for many: A gallon (3.8 liters) of milk can cost nearly $10, and a pound of steak was recently $34 in Kaltag, an interior village about 328 air miles (528 kilometers) from Fairbanks. A surge in COVID-19 cases that has disproportionately hit Alaska Natives has also made many hesitant to venture far from home.

Instead, villages sent out extra hunting parties during the fall moose season and are looking to the upcoming caribou season to meet their needs. Those who can’t hunt themselves rely on others to share their meat.

“We have to watch our people because there will be some who will have no food about midyear,” said Christina Semaken, a 63-year-old grandmother who lives in Kaltag, an Alaska interior town of fewer than 100 people. “We can’t afford to buy that beef or chicken.”

Semaken hopes to fish next year, but whether the salmon will come back remains unknown.

Tribal advocates want more genetic testing on salmon harvested from fishing grounds in Alaska waters to make sure that commercial fisheries aren’t intercepting wild Yukon River salmon. They also want more fish-tracking sonar on the river to ensure an accurate count of the salmon that escape harvest and make it back to the river’s Canadian headwaters.

Yet changes in the ocean itself might ultimately determine the salmon’s fate.

The Bering Sea, where the river meets the ocean, had unprecedented ice loss in recent years, and its water temperatures are rising. Those shifts are throwing off the timing of the plankton bloom and the distribution of small invertebrates that the fish eat, creating potential chaos in the food chain that’s still being studied, said Kate Howard, a fisheries scientist with the Alaska Department of Fish and Game. Researchers have also documented warming temperatures in the river that are unhealthy for salmon, she said.

Because salmon spend time in both rivers and the ocean during their unique life cycle, it’s hard to pin down exactly where these rapid environmental changes are most affecting them — but it’s increasingly clear that overfishing is not the only culprit, Howard said.

“When you dig into all the available data for Yukon River salmon,” she said, “it’s hard to explain it all unless you consider climate change.”

Alaska Natives, meanwhile, are left scrambling to fill a hole in their diet — and in centuries of tradition built around salmon.

On a recent fall day, a small hunting party zoomed along the Yukon River by motorboat, scanning the shoreline for signs of moose. After three days, the group had killed two moose, enough to provide meat for seven families, or about 50 people, for roughly a month in their small community of Stevens Village.

At the end of a long day, they butchered the animals as the Northern Lights blazed a vibrant green across the sky, their headlamps piercing the inky darkness.

The makeshift camp, miles from any road, would normally host several dozen families harvesting salmon, sharing meals and teaching children how to fish. On this day, it was eerily quiet.

“I don’t really think that there is any kind of bell out there that you can ring loud enough to try to explain that type of connection,” said Ben Stevens, whose ancestors founded Stevens Village. “Salmon, to us, is life. Where can you go beyond that?”