OPINION: The only just future for Alaska comes from its people

Alaska is experiencing an unparalleled moment of systemic political, economic and ecological crises. In the coming weeks, two competing visions for Alaska’s response will play out on Dena’ina Ełnena, now known as Anchorage. One vision — Gov. Mike Dunleavy’s vision — involves continued dependence on a boom-and-bust extractive economy that benefits outside corporations at the expense of Alaska’s air, waters, lands and peoples. The other vision — reflected in Alaska’s Just Transition Summit — reshapes economy, social and environmental justice, local governance and community self-determination, with the understanding that Indigenous ways of knowing are the foundation for any sustainable future. I know which vision I support.

Since its inception, the state of Alaska has created a structure of dependency on extractive and polluting revenue streams. The result is a current state deficit of more than $3 billion, leaving education and social services budgets devastated. Meanwhile, the very real impacts of climate change in Alaska are life-threatening and increasing. The claim that Alaska’s economy can only thrive from resource extraction is false; people lived in reciprocity to Alaskan lands and waters long before natural resource extraction and colonization.

The Just Transition Summit comes at a critical time of transformation for Alaska communities, reminding us how to harness the wisdom of our past to confront the problems of the present. The concept of Nughelnik, or “remembering forward,” grows from an understanding that solutions to the intersecting crises our communities face are found in economies of care, equity, real sustainability and reciprocity. This moment is an opportunity for Alaskans to lead a shift to an equitable and ecologically-rooted economy and culture. The Just Transition Summit convenes community organizers, tribal leaders, artists, union members, faith leaders, investors, elected officials, educators, small-business owners, and many more from critical sectors to build upon a collective vision of Alaska’s resilient future.

In stark contrast, the governor is offering the status quo of corporate greed, extractive capitalism and exclusion. The governor’s upcoming conference of false solutions, known as the first “Alaska Sustainable Energy Conference” shows that current state leadership is intent on pursuing emergent energy technologies without any values filter–ready to replicate the same structures of exploitation and exclusion of local voices.

The governor’s conference only serves to provide poor cover as a campaign event, bringing together major donors and like-minded business leaders to entertain a dark vision of Alaska where resource extraction and labor exploitation continue unchecked, where outsiders’ voices are valued above Alaskans’, and where the state of Alaska will continue to neglect the voices, cultures and sciences of Indigenous peoples.

The governor’s conference’s largest sponsors — those donating $50,000 in exchange for multiple speaking opportunities, private meeting spaces, and media — are the very corporations that will profit by encouraging ineffective false solutions, ensuring their own future profits: Hilcorp, ASRC Energy Services, Ultra Safe Nuclear, Alaska Industrial Development and Export Authority. Meanwhile, the conference sets exorbitant attendance fees, preventing Alaskans most affected from having a voice. The governor’s conference has, shamefully, excluded the voices of people of color, women and two-spirit peoples from keynote roles, as seen on the conference website.

Moving toward a renewable energy economy does not mean substituting natural resources to maintain profit for multinational corporations and the politicians who benefit from them. True sustainability means embracing a truly regenerative economy. This month will show the path of two very different versions of Alaska. As a young Alaska Native woman with deep hope for our future and love of our home, I will choose the future that cares about me, a summit that I can see myself in.

Learn more at justtransitionak.org and join the conversation at Nughelnik: Just Transition Summit 2022.

Ruth Łchav’aya K’isen Miller serves as Climate Justice Director for Native Movement. Ruth is a Dena’ina Athabascan woman. She has a bachelor’s degree in critical development studies with a focus on Indigenous resistance and liberation from Brown University, and has mobilized youth climate action for many years. She works toward Indigenous rights advocacy and climate justice in Alaska.

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