OPINION: We don’t need the Ambler Road

My name is Sidney Cleveland. I’m from Ambler. I’m a tribal member and NANA shareholder. This letter is my opinion and I’m not representing any company.

I’ve been here in Ambler forever, since the village started. I was born in Shungnak in 1957 in the middle of winter. At that time, there was no Ambler yet. People used to come down here to check out the hunting in this area.

The hunting and fishing down here was good so my family and others moved down here. Ever since, we’ve always had game: caribou, moose, bears, mink, foxes, wolverine and lynx. All of it. Springtime, we hunt geese, ducks and beavers. In summertime we fish — a lot. I remember when I was growing up, we set nets all over. We had fun, we had lots to eat and we had a lot of work to do.

I’ve worked at Red Dog Mine since it opened — I’m in my 34th year now. I helped to build the Portsite Road. Jim Dau, the caribou biologist for Alaska Department of Fish and Game, used to come up to Red Dog every year, and I would talk to him. There used to be lots of caribou around Red Dog Mine, but not anymore. I asked Jim, what happened to the caribou? He said, when the caribou hit the port road, a lot of them won’t cross and head east instead. Now, we don’t see any caribou at Red Dog for many years. We don’t even see much caribou in Ambler anymore. Just because of so-called “progress” — meaning mining and exploration.

Now Red Dog wants to build an underground mine a few miles away and another road to that spot. And then there’s the Ambler Road. Both of these roads are like a fence for migrating caribou. Ambler Road is a long fence. So I don’t like this development.

I’m against Ambler Road because of how it will impact our subsistence lifestyle year-round. We used to go up and hunt right by Bornite. There used to be caribou up there. If they do build Ambler Road, that will be the end of most of the animals that we hunt. I’ve heard stories of the Tanana road and McGrath road. There used to be animals right on the side of the road. Nowadays, outside hunters from Fairbanks come to hunt, and there’s no more game. If they build the Ambler Road, Outside hunters will come and get our game. Already, small planes are here every fall. Those hunters would use the Ambler Road even more.

I’ve seen maps of the road that go right to the Ambler River, which enters the Kobuk River right at Ambler village. Are the mining companies planning to tap into our clean water? Lots of people have allotments on the Ambler River; they hunt and fish on the Ambler River. If that mining company and road mess up that clean water, it will really affect us and our fishing.


If they build Ambler Road, trucks will run off the road and spill ore. Someone is supposed to clean that up, but usually they don’t clean it all the way. And all that toxic stuff will drain downriver to us from the mines. Fuel tanks will tip over and spill diesel all over the tundra. And I’m sure they will try to pretend it didn’t happen. I know that will happen in Ambler Mining District.

With these mining companies, it’s all about expansion. If they build a road, they will start exploration all along the road, all the way back to the Alyeska pipeline road. And that’s when we’ll really be losing our game. The Athabascan people — and us, too — will lose hunting and fishing grounds and our privileges. I would hate to see our hunting rights go to a lottery system, like down in the states where you can only hunt a certain number of days of the year. The Iñupiaq would never survive as a people like that.

The agencies need to actually study the impact on this land; they need to have actual meetings here in Ambler, Shungnak and Kobuk. I would like to know what’s going on with this project. What about me, poor old Sidney in Ambler? If they want to start that mine, our people should have a say — big time.

I’m going to retire from Red Dog Mine soon. I want to keep hunting and fishing after I retire. That’s why I don’t want the Ambler Road — we wouldn’t have such an abundant land anymore. No road to Ambler!

Sidney Cleveland is a tribal member and NANA Corp. shareholder. He lives in Ambler.

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