I grew up at fish camp and our winter cabin throughout my childhood life up until I was 17. My parents, Frank and Wynona Jones, have been a big influence on me. Because of them, it’s important to me to preserve our land and make sure the animals, the fish, and the birds always come back. Because this is our home, and this is what we live off of.
My family camp is on the Kobuk River — and it’s close to where the Ambler Road could be. This is also in the area where animals, fish and birds migrate. The Ambler Road and the mines will affect the animals because that’s where they pass through. This is a big part of the animals’ home for the year. If you put a road where caribou, fish and birds will be affected, then that will obviously change their routes. I know that’s an influence on what they hear, smell, see. That’s scary. I hate to see these animals’ home, our home, get invaded just for a road and minerals.
And then there’s the creeks and streams that we worry about a lot, the water that comes from the mountains where they plan to mine. The rivers connect to the ocean. It’s a big world, in a small area. Everybody would be affected by the Ambler Road.
I’m not just worried about the Ambler Road’s effects where we live, but also the surrounding villages: Ambler, Kobuk, and everybody downriver. Last winter, some guys from Huslia even, came over to hunt caribou and then head back to Huslia. Our region feeds a lot of people. The Caribou Trails newsletters publish numbers of caribou that each household catches. It makes you realize how much we depend on caribou and how everyone helps other families who can’t go hunting. We have to try to support the other small villages in Alaska.
I’ve been sitting on the Shungnak tribal council and city council the last two years. The Alaska Industrial Development and Export Authority or Bureau of Land Management or Ambler Metals often come through, talking about the Ambler Road. I always try to go into those meetings open-mindedly and hear what they have to say. The majority of those meetings are on the positive side. They don’t leave room for the downsides of what could possibly happen. They always have an answer for everything, but I don’t feel good about their answers to the more challenging questions. What are you going to do if there’s a spill in a creek? They make it seem like it’s impossible for them to mess up. But there’s no guarantee that nothing will go wrong. That’s what scares me a lot.
There are some people that are totally for the Ambler Road and they always mention jobs. They’re good jobs — you can do on-the-job training and make money and support your family. While I think the jobs are great, it’s a job to tear up your own land. And it’s just one kind of job. More mining jobs push people into those jobs rather than into school and education. You don’t need much special training, and you don’t need to go to college to be a drill or heavy equipment operator. We’re always short of teachers here. We have so few native teachers.
Two things are always on my mind: mining contamination into lakes and rivers and the possibility of the road still being in use when they stop using the mine. I know they mention there won’t be public access, but again, there’s no guarantee of what will happen. We hear a lot from the people who are for the Ambler Road, but often we don’t even get to talk about the downsides.
In reality, many in the region are against the Ambler Road. Lately, it feels awesome to see it from all over the place. And just being heard is one of the best feelings. I love talking about my lands, mine and ours and everybody’s, where we grew up.
Reba Jones grew up in camp upriver from Shungnak. Today, she lives in Shungnak and serves on the Issingnak Tribal Council and the Shungnak City Council. Reba continues to live off the land as her family taught her.
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