Wassiliisa "Deedee" Bennis
This oral history project focuses on Native Alaska women engaged in Bristol Bay fisheries. Women play a major role in maintaining set net permits and are critical to sustaining small-scale fisheries in Alaska and the communities who depend on them. Interviews were conducted with women of various ages who have participated in commercial and/ or subsistence salmon fisheries.
Wassiliisa (Deedee) lives in Dillingham, Alaska and is the Chief Administrative Officer at Bristol Bay Native Association, where she has worked for over forty years. In this interview Deedee describes how she grew up fishing with her father, who was a commercial fisherman, and how she values family engagement in the fishery. She goes on to highlight various subsistence practices, and the ways that she has passed on gathering and preparing subsistence foods to her children, and now her grandchildren. Deedee advocates for a subsistence way of life and describes recent environmental threats, such as Pebble Mine. This interview was conducted by NOAA Fisheries Alaska Fisheries Science Center in partnership with Bristol Bay Native Association as part of the Women of Alaska Fisheries oral history project.
Scope and Content Note
This oral history interview features Wassiliisa Bennis, a member of the Yupik and Aleut communities in Alaska. Wassiliisa discusses her personal background and her experiences growing up in a fishing family, including her involvement in commercial and subsistence fishing. She emphasizes the importance of respecting the land, sharing resources, and maintaining a strong work ethic. Wassiliisa reflects on the challenges and rewards of fishing, the role of women in the industry, and the value of passing down traditional knowledge to future generations. Throughout the interview, she highlights the significance of family, community, and cultural practices in shaping her life and values. Wassiliisa emphasizes the value of teaching her grandchildren the traditional practices of gathering and processing native foods, such as fishing, berry picking, and making traditional dishes like akutaq. She recounts the joy of involving her family in these activities, despite the challenges of competing with processed foods and changing eating habits. Wassiliisa reflects on the significance of documenting and journaling her experiences to ensure that her daughter and grandchildren can continue the tradition. She highlights the importance of self-sufficiency, sharing the superiority of homemade food and the connection to the land and natural resources. Wassiliisa discusses the transformative environmental changes, including climate change and the potential threats posed by large-scale mining projects like Pebble mine. She expresses deep concern for the impact of such projects on the ecosystem, cultural practices, and the future of her community. Wassiliisa emphasizes the need for advocacy and active involvement in protecting their way of life and passing it on to future generations. She concludes by stressing the importance of storytelling and documenting their history to raise awareness and appeal to those in power to safeguard their natural resources.
Project Note: It’s who we are: Voices of Alaska Native women set-netters. Anna Lavoie, Kim Sparks, Jean Lee (Pacific States Marine Fisheries Commission), and Sarah Wise (NOAA Fisheries, Alaska Fisheries Science Center (AFSC). 2018. Support provided by Bristol Bay Native Association. Funding provided by the NOAA Heritage Program (formerly the NOAA Preserve America Initiative) and AFSC. Interviews are accessed on NOAA's Voices from the Fisheries website at www.voices.nmfs.noaa.gov.
Please Note: The oral histories in this collection are protected by copyright and have been created for educational, research and personal use as described by the Fair Use Doctrine in the U.S. Copyright law. Please reach out Voices@noaa.gov to let us know how these interviews are being used in your research, project, exhibit, etc. The Voices staff can help provide other useful resources related to your inquiry.
The NOAA mission is to understand and predict changes in climate, weather, oceans, and coasts, to share that knowledge and information with others, and to conserve and manage coastal and marine ecosystems and resources. The Voices Oral History Archives offers public access to a wide range of accounts, including historical materials that are products of their particular times, and may contain offensive language or negative stereotypes.
Voices Oral History Archives does not verify the accuracy of materials submitted to us. The opinions expressed in the interviews are those of the interviewee only. The interviews here have been made available to the public only after the interviewer has confirmed that they have obtained consent.