Environmental advocates Martin Robards
and Eduard Zdor hail from different sides
of the Bering Strait, but share expertise and
interests in protecting the regional ecosystem
and traditional ways of life in the north
Pacific. In this conversation, they cover everything
from the preservation of sea-hunting
communities in Chukotka to the enduring
value of sitting back and watching television
with fellow scientists from time to time.

 

MR
We’re here to talk about traditional natural
resource management in the Bering Strait
region and the current challenges. The goal
is really to hear from Eduard about his relationship
with the region between Russia and
America and to look at how international
connections and travel have aided in the work
that he is doing. I want to start by getting
ourselves in the scene with a question: Where
is the Bering Strait region? For me, it’s that
juncture between the Eastern and Western
hemispheres. Historically it was the Bering
Land Bridge, a Pleistocene climate refuge.
It’s the entrance to the Arctic from the
Pacific and it’s a place filled with wildlife and
people. And so, Eduard, I would ask you to
describe your own thoughts about the Bering
Strait, from a broad-picture perspective,
about the villages or the wildlife there. What
is your vision of the Bering Strait when you
think about it?

EZ
Well, the first thing I’d like to say is that
I wasn’t born there, I was born in South
Chukotka, but I moved there with my
mother to the Arctic shore when I was six
years old. My mother married a sea hunter
there, so my entire conscious life has been
spent on those shores and has been spent
working for the people.
 I grew up in a sea-hunter community. My
whole life has essentially been spent in that
community with that lifestyle. And now,

the work that I do, the problems that I try
to solve, my motivation, my decisions are all
driven by the memory of how life was when I
was growing up. Although now I’ve moved to
the capital of Chukotka, which is in central
Chukotka, my mother, my sister, my brother,
they still live in that village where I grew up
in the Bering Strait, and I visit there often, so
I care very much what happens to that region
and to those people.

MR
And when you say “those people,” Eduard,
the Siberian Yupik, Chukchi, St. Lawrence
Island Yupik, Inupiaq, how would you
describe the connections between these
people? The fact that they’ve been living
together for millennia, and on both sides
of the Bering Strait, we have this political
boundary between the two countries, but not
really between these different cultures. Could
you talk about the connections between the
different cultural groups in the area?

EZ
You’re absolutely right, Martin, that is true,
the people that live on both sides of the Strait
are often directly related. When they meet
they might list who comes from what clan,
who comes from what family, and they’ll try
to speak in their native tongue. Of course
they aren’t always successful. The unfortunate
reality of our days is the loss of the native
languages.
 People often ask us to say hello to one
another on opposite sides of the Strait. For
example, when someone from my organization
is travelling, they might say, “Can you
please say hello to my aunt in Alaska? Tell
her I’ll visit next time and that I’m worried
about her health.” So despite being very
restricted in their contact for over half a
century, it’s amazing how people have maintained
these relationships.
 On the other hand, if we’re talking about
similarities in culture and lifestyle and traditional
knowledge, it is not limited to relatives,