The Native Conservancy

Rebalancing Native Diets with Subsistence Foods in Cordova, Alaska

Rebalancing Native Diets with Subsistence Foods in Cordova, Alaska

USD 25.000 grant
to restore the historical and cultural relationship
of the Native Village of Eyak to the environment
through monthly deliveries of sustainably-harvested
traditional Native foods

On this page, you can learn about the community served by this project and the particular challenges they face. We also offer insights into Native Conservancy, the Indigenous-led organization we proudly support, and a thorough account of the project they are undertaking. We invite you to consider becoming an ally and find ways to offer direct support to Native Conservancy, all detailed on this page.

The Community

The Eyak Athabaskan people have lived along the Copper River Delta and eastern Prince William Sound for the last 3,500 years. They migrated from the interior of Alaska over the glaciers to the Gulf of Alaska coastline, where retreating glaciers formed a thin green strip of habitat and rivers near Yakutat, an Eyak word meaning lagoon behind the sea, where the canoes rest.

The Eyaks are the wild Copper River salmon people and the traditional ancestral stewards of the Copper River Delta region. Their identity and name come from where they established their subsistence villages. Eyak means the throat of the lake, where the lake becomes the river.

Credit: The Native Conservancy

The Need

For thousands of years, families from the Native Village of Eyak in Prince William Sound were deeply connected to Nature through their ocean way of life. Their diets followed the seasons as they fished, hunted, and gathered berries and herbs. Traditionally, they did not distinguish themselves from their environment, and so served as ancestral stewards of the land

Then colonization, forced assimilation, and the 1989 Exxon Valdez oil spill drove these families from their local food resources toward a reliance on processed foods flown in from the mainland. As a result, their once rich in nutrients diet is now as impoverished as the community itself. In the 1800s, Cordova was built as a coal and copper terminus on top of the ancient village of Eyak. Later, it became the site of corporate canneries where the Eyaks are hired seasonally. In this context, the community endures a high-cost food desert where non-traditional food is expensive and traditional foods are out of reach.  

According to Alaska Native Tribal Health Consortium statistics, between the early 90s and late 2000s, obesity rates rose 63%. Alaska Natives are 2.3 times more likely to have diabetes compared with Caucasians. Therefore, improving access to traditional foods, which are much healthier and more sustainable than the processed foods brought in from the mainland, is critical for the health and well-being of this People and the environment where they live.

Credit: The Native Conservancy

The Grantee

The Native Conservancy

Native Conservancy was established in 2003 as a 501(c)(3) non-profit to defend Alaska Native self-determination in Prince William Sound and across Salmon Nation territories. As a Native-run organization, NC is revitalizing the Indigenous Knowledge of Alaska Native coastal communities, empowering Alaska Native peoples to permanently protect and preserve endangered habitats on their ancestral homelands and striving to maintain and secure titles to Native lands in conservation trusts to strengthen their inherent rights of sovereignty, subsistence and spirituality.

Credit: The Native Conservancy

The Project 

Rebalancing Native Diets with Subsistence Foods in Cordova, Alaska

This project is a step toward mitigating the profoundly negative impacts that the extractive industry has had on the community of the Native Village of Eyak and recovering their ocean way of life. It will do so through the administration, outreach, preparation, and delivery of traditional foods to Eyak Elders and their families.

"The ultimate goal of this project is that Native families who have been in Cordova for thousands of years can stop eating canned creamed corn and reunite with their ancestral diet." 

by Eyak Native Jim Smith, Restoration and Elder Subsistence Program Manager for Native Conservancy

This project protects Alaska Native ways of life that are in harmony with Nature. It reduces the community's exposure to highly-processed foods flown in from mainland Alaska, bringing families together through food to share culture and enhance the community.

When The Native Conservancy first delivered 500 pounds of traditional frozen food to Eyak Elders in Cordova, they followed Alaska Native tradition and tripled the impact of the Native Conservancy food security system by sharing it with family members and their households. With the support of this grant, the Native Conservancy will: 

1. Expand its Subsistence Program to help Native Elders and their families access locally sourced healthy foods. 
The program will incorporate a calendar of seasonal foods, including seafood, kelp, fish, fresh meat, berries and medicinal herbs, into monthly deliveries. The Native Conservancy will also conduct Elder family member surveys and other outreach, including a Facebook page with menus, to ensure program success and flexibility according to tastes and suggestions.

2. Foster Indigenous community connection among Native Elders and Community members.
Every month, the project's team will meet face-to-face with at least 50 elders to build rapport and conduct surveys about what traditional meals and foods they most need and would like. Families will be invited to add recipes and suggest local providers for traditional food delicacies. In addition, the program will continue to engage youth in the community to participate in food gathering and processing via traditional methods.
The Native Conservancy's Subsistence Foods Program has grown substantially in the community over the last three years despite Covid. It encompasses harvesting and food preparation, as well as outreach and administration. It strives to reach hospitals and homes where elders sometimes cannot pick up their food. 

The project will also recruit local Native American cuisine experts – from those who make the best traditional jellies and jams from local berries to those who make the best fry bread in town – to help prepare once-a-month supplements for the deliveries of fish, meat, berries and herbal medicines.

Don't miss out on our captivating interview with Dune Lankard, Founder and President of Native Conservancy. This rich conversation delves deep into the Ocean Way of Life of the Eyak People in the Copper River Delta and Prince William Sound, emphasizing the significance of reintegrating traditional subsistence foods into Native Diets:

Celebrating Closing Milestones

As we reflect on the incredible journey of this project, we feel grateful for our partnership with Native Conservancy and the milestones it has achieved. By rebalancing Native diets with subsistence foods, this project has been a crucial step toward empowering Native Elders and strengthening community resilience and connection.

Kelp and Salmon // Credit: The Native Conservancy

Native Conservancy has expanded its mission of ensuring Native Elders and their families have regular access to locally sourced healthy foods. 

One of the critical steps in this expansion was the addition of Marina Madison as Program Assistant. Marina's dedication and expertise were instrumental in streamlining the distribution process, allowing Native Conservancy to accurately track and deliver over 530 portions of fresh fish, 143 crabs, and 487 home-cooked meals throughout 2023.

Marina also invited guest chefs to create delicious dishes using recipes passed down for generations, such as fish pie and salmon gumbo, which celebrated the Eyak heritage and nourished the body and soul.

But the program also delivered modern dishes made with subsistence fish and meat, and according to the surveys, salmon gyoza dumplings were a fan favorite! Miso salmon ramen, halibut burgers, salmon gumbo, seafood chowder, and pesto pasta with salmon meatballs were also on the menu.

In addition to local distributions, Native Conservancy expanded its reach through social media. They shared their journey with a wider audience and connected with like-minded individuals and communities. 

Being featured in "Kelp Update" by Jennifer Nu in Edible Alaska magazine was another highlight, allowing them to amplify their message of cultural preservation and food sovereignty.


Kelp Update | Edible Alaska

Editors’ Note: The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) defines mariculture as the culturing of shellfish and aquatic plant organisms such as seaweed in areas of the ocean close to shore. Since the 2019 Edible Alaska story on kelp farming, mariculture has experienced a surge in attention with funding, research, new farms, and associated services in many Alaskan

Jim Smith, Director of Reclaiming Land & Water Ties, explained the program's importance to Edible Alaskan readers far and wide. He spoke about how he has seen the relationship between the land and the water diminish.

The people that are from here and the animals and plants from here—our DNA has been living in tandem for thousands of years. That separation, that severed tie, means you quickly lose knowledge of what life is like in less than one generation.

Jim Smith

He elaborated on how his program seeks to rebuild these ties by delivering subsistence food to Native Elders.

It connects [us] to each other and to the past. It brings up stories. It ties us to this place [where] we've been living for 10,000 years. It's delivering nutritious food we are meant to eat.

Jim Smith
Jim Smith // Credit: The Native Conservancy

In addition to delivering local distributions, Native Conservancy was able to support its Alaskan neighbors who were devastated by Typhoon Merbok. The City of Nom experienced winds over 70MPH (White, 2023). To this day, the communities are still working to overcome the devastation.

The Nome Inupiaq community didn't have a salmon fishery this year. In response to this intense need for subsistence food, Native Conservancy donated 17 filets to the Nome community, which they shared with their local tribal Elders. 

They also contributed eight filets to Calypso farms in Fairbanks for Indigenous subsistence training and then 75 salmon portions for a gathering of Native People from the Yukon River who have lost all access to their traditional subsistence run of fish over the last couple of years.

But perhaps the most rewarding aspect of this journey was the heartfelt gratitude expressed by their Native Elders. From handwritten notes of appreciation to survey responses echoing the sentiment that subsistence foods are "our bloodline," these words serve as a reminder of why this work is so important.

Subsistence foods are what we grew up on. What our ancestors grew up on. They are our bloodline.

Eyak Elder

Directly support The Native Conservancy's work

Azimuth World Foundation is proud to support the Subsistence Foods program. The Native Conservancy works on many more highly relevant projects, such as building resilience in frontline Indigenous communities through social enterprise programs, safeguarding the last remaining wild salmon watersheds and revitalizing the ocean habitat for forage fish, wild salmon, herring and small invertebrates.

By accepting you will be accessing a service provided by a third-party external to