OPINION: Alaska Native support for the Ambler Access Project is growing

Alaska Natives own and steward our land for the long-term survival of our peoples. This includes resource development that respects the environment, our culture and our subsistence way of life. Our stewardship maintains the spiritual and cultural well-being of Native peoples, while also promoting sound, sustainable economic practices that strengthen and protect our communities.

The voices opposing the Ambler Access Project have overlooked the growing support for the project among tribal communities. Most of these voices are not from the region. Eleven of the villages closest to the project have voiced their support for the permitting process to proceed. In February of this year, the villages of Huslia and Allakaket unanimously voted to withdraw from litigation against the project, leaving only two communities in the lawsuit. This change is the result of improved communication between the project proponents, tribal leaders and communities, along with commitments that the proposed road will follow. We have seen the Alaska Industrial Development and Export Authority’s commitment through their meetings in the region this year — in Kotzebue and Allakaket. For the limited activities the agencies have permitted over the past two years, AIDEA has also attempted to hire locally; I have benefited from this employment. Our village corporation, K’oyitl’ots’ina, Limited (K-Corp), is also providing project-related jobs to our residents. I hope future years can provide greater hiring opportunities.

A primary concern with the project is any impacts it may have upon the environment, fish and caribou. We understand AIDEA will exceed environmental requirements for the road and is committed to meeting the rules and regulations. Their continued communication through the Subsistence Advisory Committee and community meetings shows their commitment. We encourage studies for the environment and the fish and game to ensure that the road and any future mines do not impact these critical resources. Earthwork for the road or the mines should use the latest techniques and protections to avoid impacts from runoff that will hurt our streams and rivers. Keeping the road private is essential — we want to protect the caribou and fish from outside hunters; these resources are already suffering.

Our subsistence lifestyle is not an easy one. Protection of the environment can coexist with opportunities to create stable jobs and funding for our community. Jobs allow our people to afford fuel, guns and ammunition, all of which are needed for subsistence hunting and fishing. Our community needs funding for our utilities and buildings. The AAP will allow us to stay in our communities, sustaining our cultural traditions. We look forward to working with AIDEA and the mining companies to build a partnership that is beneficial for everyone and minimizes the impacts on our communities.

The few people who oppose the road or the mine(s) exaggerate the environmental harm without understanding how it will be developed. The Red Dog Mine is an example of responsible development. It has operated for more than 30 years and has successfully balanced subsistence and resource development, providing significant opportunities for residents.

The AAP is threatened by the current legal wrangling and roadblocks being created by opponents to the project and federal agencies. This threatens the investment and progress that the project can deliver to our region. Time is of the essence; our villages suffer economically and our residents are struggling. The authorities must listen to the voices who have lived on these lands and stewarded Alaska for time immemorial. This land is an integral part of who we are; our people have understood and cherished its value for centuries, and we support the AAP as a means to keep it robust and resilient, preserve our way of life and sustain our economic future.

Vincent Simon Sr. is a former chief and second chief for Allakaket Village and a lifelong resident of the community.

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