OPINION: Growing beyond our history of resource extraction

For thousands of years, Alaska Native peoples stewarded this land. People with rich knowledge systems who for centuries have navigated these lands from a culture of sharing, of regeneration with little to no waste, using each item as a sacred gift of the Earth.

The first European explorers began the practice of extracting and exploiting Alaska’s natural resources. Centering extractive practices has been the story of Alaska, and it’s time to change. Native corporations, elected leaders, the Department of Fish and Game, and so many more pieces of our community structure need to shift their perspectives. It’s time to transition away from extractive business-as-usual practices; we must look to our history of thousands of years of successful Earth stewardship as we build forward. But fear not: The transition is already happening.

In May 2022, hundreds of Alaskans gathered at the Nughelnik Just Transition summit to talk about how regenerative economies are already shaping the future of our state.

Just Transition is a framework the International Labour Organization describes as “maximizing social and economic opportunities of climate action while minimizing and carefully managing any challenges — including through effective social dialogue among all groups impacted.”

A just transition means building things like food distribution systems and utilities that center community care over individual gains. A great example was in 2021, when the Alaska Native Heritage Center organized a fish drop, giving 25 pounds of salmon to many families during the pandemic.

Farms and greenhouses funded by community organizations and tribes are emerging all across the state. The network of reciprocity displayed yearly during herring egg season is an impressive model for how communities can share resources with relatives across the state.

Tribes are also building their broadband internet access systems. The Akiak tribe started their broadband network, and Wrangell is a starting point for the Central Council of the Tlingit and Haida Indian Tribes of Alaska to build their broadband service to communities in Southeast Alaska.


Alaska also has a lot of opportunity to invest in renewable energy — a field that harnesses infinite forms of energy — instead of investing money and technology in extracting hard-to-find oil and gas deposits.

A transition to renewable energy is not just possible; it is necessary. Alaska Native communities are at the forefront of the devastating effects of climate change. Extreme weather patterns that caused the deadly landslide in Haines in 2020 and the storm that tore through Western Alaska in September 2022 are becoming more common as the ocean warms.

Some Alaska communities already demonstrate that it’s possible to rely on renewable energy. Juneau’s electricity is already almost entirely renewable, relying on hydroelectric power supplemented by diesel fuel. Since 2014, Kodiak Island Borough has successfully gotten more than 99% of its energy from wind and hydropower resources immediately available.

People may not be able to envision a future without an extractive economy, but the roots of it are already here. Alaska Native knowledge has created systems of care for the community and environment for thousands of years.

Alaska Natives and countless ancestors were the true stewards of the land for time immemorial and are the inventors of the only system that worked in preserving fish populations. We need to know that we are not economically depressed; we have every resource necessary to thrive.

Being self-sustained by switching to renewable energy and growing food on our immensely fertile soil creates lifetimes of jobs and provides food security. That is richer than a 30-year mining project that provides only for a single generation while also destroying the lands and foods they already provide.

We must recognize when our current systems are not working or leaving many people out, and we deserve better. When corporations become genuinely accountable to tribes and our tribal communities, then Alaska can become a community of care for all, for our children, our communities, and our Mother Earth. A just transition is happening. Will you join?

Lyndsey Brollini is Haida from Anchorage — Dena’ina Ełnena — and currently resides in Juneau, land of the Áak’w Khwáan. She has a BA in journalism and political science from University of Washington and works as a storyteller highlighting Indigenous and underrepresented communities in Alaska.

Anaan’arar Sophie Irene Swope is Cup’ik and the director for the Mother Kuskokwim Tribal Coalition and a Kuskokwim community organizer at Native Movement. She was born, raised and is currently residing in Materilluk, also known as Bethel.

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