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Despite what some say, upper Kobuk villages withhold support of Ambler road

My name is Virginia Commack, but my real name is Akpik in our Kuuvanmiut language. I am from Ambler in Northwest Alaska.

The very area for the land proposed for mining and exploration are on the traditional lands and waters of our people. These areas provide our life sustenance -- if there was no caribou, no sheefish, no whitefish, no muskrats, no rabbits, we would not be here.

My people have first rights to this land from our creator. Our highest authority is our creator, and he blessed my people with an abundance of traditional foods to live off of.  I appreciate this opportunity to have a little say, and I hope you come to Ambler. Hear us out. Pay attention to the historical uses of these areas, because truly our people were born here, they lived here for thousands of years. Go visit the archaeological areas, and you will know we are truly first nations and we really deserve a voice.

We are the first nation in Northwest Alaska, and yet we do not fit in your public scoping meetings. Our tribal government is very traditional, but we have our own government-to-government policies developed and approved. We have already sat with one federal agency, the National Park Service, and we expect to be sitting with each and every federal agency that pertains to any planning on our ancestral lands and wildlife areas. Therefore we must use our government-to-government policies if we are to expect the Canadian mining company Nova Copper and the Alaska Industrial Development and Export Authority to sit with us one-on-one and map out our traditional land and water uses.

There are people saying our villages support the Ambler Road. But they are not speaking for my people.

Over the years we videotaped our elders of the whole upper Kobuk area, of Kobuk, Shungnak and Ambler, and we mapped all of our traditional areas. Those are the mountains where all that exploration has been done in prior years without any permission from our people -- the people that hunt the sheep, all our squirrels, and everything in that area.

So we stand strongly because our elders are behind us, and our tribal government. Our council feels strongly that we have this responsibility -- and they have authorized me as a tribal advocate and to speak freely.

My people are good people. They are very respectful, quiet people, and they hardly say anything. We had a prophet in our area, Maniilaq, who came to our people to forewarn us that there will be a time these kinds of people will come, and they will bring a very hard life. I see that right now -- my people are already having a hard life.

I take it to heart that, until I leave this earth, I will speak for them. I will speak for those elders who could not speak English. When they taught me all these things, the names of these places, and the areas we need to preserve. They taught me about the North -- the mountains are the ones you are supposed to preserve. Our villages deserve to have a voice in this process.  Thank you.

Virginia Commack, Akpik, is from the Northwest Alaska village of Ambler, for which she advocates.

The views expressed here are the writer's own and are not necessarily endorsed by Alaska Dispatch, which welcomes a broad range of viewpoints. To submit a piece for consideration, e-mail commentary(at)alaskadispatch.com.