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Road to Umiat would destroy subsistence lifestyle

Esther Hugo

Anaktuvuk Pass is an area rich with cultural, traditional and natural spirit. Established in 1949, we're a community that embodies the pride of our Nunamiut ancestors who were the last nomadic tribe to settle in Alaska. We carry this pride with us every day, as it continues to shape who we are and where we come from.

Located above the Arctic Circle in the Brooks Range and within Gates of the Arctic National Park, Anaktuvuk Pass is the only home that many of its residents have ever known. Just as our ancestors did, we continue to survive in rural Alaska by carrying out a subsistence way of life, depending on nearby caribou herds to support our livelihood, our diet and our cultural identity. Without these caribou and other plants and animals in the region, residents of Anaktuvuk Pass would not be able to feed their families, forcing them to move away and turning our ancestors' heritage into a thing of the past.

And now the road to Umiat threatens this balance. The road would connect the Dalton Highway through the foothills of the Brooks Range to Umiat — cutting through nearly 100 miles of subsistence hunting grounds and crossing major rivers, including the Colville.

This road will threaten our plants and animals, especially by introducing more sport hunters to compete with our subsistence lifestyles, so we must stop the project before it moves forward. You can help by attending a public meeting or submitting scoping comments to stand with subsistence lifestyles and against the road to Umiat.

This road will hurt our Arctic communities.

As a Nunamiut Eskimo and a resident of Anaktuvuk Pass, I have relied on the Central Arctic Caribou Herd the Western Arctic Caribou Herd, and the Teshekpuk Caribou Herd to feed my family and support our community. Customs and practices associated with subsistence caribou hunting have been passed along to countless generations and are the foundation of our cultural identity. To lose the ability to share this knowledge with our children and grandchildren would be tragic.

In addition to threats from the project's construction, the development of a road to Umiat will give Outside sport hunters public access to our traditional lands and rivers. This will create a threat to subsistence users in the region, as overhunting and abuse of the terrain will force locals to travel farther to gather the resources needed to feed the entire community. The high cost of living in rural Alaska makes subsistence hunting and gathering even more important, as going to the grocery store is an impossible alternative for our people. With gas prices at over $9 a gallon and rising, it is absolutely crucial that we continue to hunt for our food in order to make ends meet while preserving our culture.

Both the Naqsragmiut Tribal Council and the City of Anaktuvuk Pass have passed resolutions against building a road to Umiat. It is important, however, that our Arctic communities stand together to support subsistence lifestyles above all else. Building a road to Umiat will eliminate thousands of years of tradition. Please show your support by submitting comments to stop the road to Umiat. You can do that at www.bit.ly/arcticroad.

Attend a public meeting in your city to make your voice heard:

  • Fairbanks: June 8 at 6-9 p.m., Noel Wien Library
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  • Anchorage: June 9 at 6-9 p.m., Loussac Library
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  • Nuiqsut: June 13 at 6-9 p.m., Kisik Community Center
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  • Barrow: June 14 at 6-9 p.m., Barrow Community Center
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  • Anaktuvuk Pass: June 16 at 6-9 p.m., Anaktuvuk Pass Community Hall

A lady once asked me after visiting Anaktuvuk Pass, "Do you know you live in God's country?"

Ever since then, I can't help but look at the mountains, hills and land around me and know this beautiful place I call home has made me the happiest person in the world. I want my children, grandchildren and great-grandchildren to live here just as our ancestors did before us, surviving with our subsistence way of life.

It saddens my heart to know a road to Umiat will make that dream impossible.

Esther Hugo is mayor of Anaktuvuk Pass, Alaska.

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