OPINION: America needs critical minerals. My community needs the Ambler Road.

Environmental groups — many of which are from outside of Alaska — are opposed to the Ambler Road. These groups often claim that Alaska Natives are also opposed to the road and that the road is not in our best interests. I’m speaking out because I want policymakers to understand that Alaska Native opinions on the road are not all the same. I strongly believe that the road will greatly benefit my community and I’m not alone. Many of my neighbors also support the road, as do other villages in the region. I worry though that our voices are getting drowned out by people outside the region and Alaska who don’t understand the struggles of my community.

I’m sharing my perspective now because the Department of the Interior will soon put out an environmental report on the project. Our government needs to listen to the people who live in our communities as they determine whether the road will be built.

There is no road access to my village of Ambler. The only way to reach my village is by plane, and this goes for all of the villages in the region. Everything, from heating fuel to food to building materials, must be flown in — or, for some communities’ goods, can seasonally be brought in by river barge, but only if conditions allow. Both options come with a heavy cost. The Ambler Road will help connect our village to the rest of the state, which will bring down the costs of goods and supplies.

Job opportunities are scarce. Many of our young people leave to find jobs in urban areas of the state, like Fairbanks or Anchorage. It’s very hard for them to leave their traditional lifestyles to live in a city. They often fall into drug use, and some take their own lives. We need long-term job opportunities so that our young people can stay in their home villages. This is the only way our villages will survive. The main employer in the region is the Red Dog zinc mine. But this mine won’t be around forever, and we need to make sure there are jobs in the region for the next generations.

The groups opposed to the road claim that the Ambler road, and the mining that will occur, will ruin the land, pollute rivers and streams, and drive away caribou. The Red Dog mine has shown that development is possible that improves our way of life while respecting the environment. I have hunted these lands my entire life. The Red Dog mine has not significantly disrupted wildlife and fishing. After 40 years, we all still hunt and fill our freezers.

Outside groups also don’t understand that we need the income from jobs in the region to continue our subsistence way of life. How else can we afford the snowmachines, gas, guns and bullets that we need to hunt and fish?

When the Red Dog mine was being planned, tribes were listened to and included in the process. I’m grateful that a similar process is underway for the Ambler Road. We’ve received an assurance that the road will be kept private so that hunters and tourists will not flock to our land. This is a top priority for my community and it’s encouraging to see our concerns listened to and acted on.


Alaska has a long history of providing the Lower 48 states with the raw materials and fuel that the economy needs. The critical minerals in the Ambler region are in high demand in our own country and around the world. My question to those opposed to the road is: If not Alaska, where?

Editor’s note: The author’s biography in the original version of this commentary referred to him as the president of the Native Village of Ambler, a position which does the village’s tribal council says does not exist. It has been updated to remove this reference.

Miles Cleveland of Ambler is a Northwest Arctic Borough Assembly member. He was born and raised in northwest Alaska.

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