Native groups object to prison sentence of Kaktovik man who shot and wasted polar bear

Chris Gordon, center, sits during a meeting about polar bear management in Kaktovik in June. He agreed to plead guilty Friday to a single count of shooting and killing a polar bear in violation of the Marine Mammal Protection Act. (Nathaniel Herz / Alaska’s Energy Desk)

After a Kaktovik man was found guilty of killing and wasting a polar bear in a small North Slope village, several prominent Alaska Native organizations are calling the sentence “inappropriate.”

Kaktovik resident Chris Gordon shot and killed a polar bear outside his home in December 2018. The bear was drawn by whale meat that Gordon left out in his yard. 

A Facebook post by Kaktovik resident Chris Gordon showing the dead polar bear that he shot outside his house, where it was trying to eat frozen bowhead whale meat. (Courtesy U.S. Attorney’s Office)

Related: Kaktovik is crawling with polar bears. Now a man is going to prison for wasting one.

As an Alaska Native from the region, the Marine Mammal Protection Act allows Gordon to kill polar bears as long as he harvests them. However, Gordon left the bear carcass untouched months until he eventually had it burned it at a village dump. 

Late last month, Gordon was sentenced to three months in prison, and a $4,500 fine, for wasting the bear. 

Now, the Alaska Eskimo Whaling Commission, as well as the Native Village of Kaktovik, are criticizing the sentencing. In a statement, the commission wrote that because Gordon is a hunter, sending him to prison and limiting his hunting is also “a punishment of his children, Elders, and other community members who rely on him for food.”

The commission says a punishment should’ve been handed down by “civil, locally-driven penalties within a cultural and traditional context.”

This isn’t the first time the commission has weighed in on the case against Gordon, a whaling captain who is a member of the commission, according to federal court documents. Those same documents say that when a Kaktovik local, identified as T.S., posted a video of the dead bear on Facebook and expressed concern, the AEWC attempted to “pressure” the woman to remove her post, saying it could do harm to whaling and subsistence rights.