OPINION: Many in Northwest Alaska afraid of what Ambler Road will bring

Uvanga attigaa Nunurook, Ilaguq. Hello, my name is Iva Baker from Kotzebue. Looking back to our past leaders in the NANA Region I witnessed our elders protecting our land. I was born in the 1970s and lived here all my life. When I was younger I always thought, “Why don’t we do anything with our land,” our younger generation needs help with jobs and education. Then, as time passed, I heard of the Red Dog Mine in the 1980s, the promises this Canadian company would bring to our people. I did not know much about mining, all I could hear was money, money, money, but also heard our people leaving our region due to the high cost of living and good pay from the Red Dog.

I guess fast forward to now. There are over 220 job openings in our region and no one applies. I can go on and on about job openings just in Kotzebue. No matter how many jobs are available in the state, people will always look for a cheaper way to live. People who move away to the big city still come back home to hunt and fish and go back to the big city.

Once that Ambler Road is put in, it cannot be reversed. It will be a permanent structure invading numerous rivers, natural springs, wildlife, and now our communities. With the hunting regulation changing by the Department of Fish and Game, we are already being limited in hunting caribou (that is just one animal). They just had a big meeting here in Kotzebue in February.

All over the world, there is so much land that has been disturbed. I once heard a Canadian Native say, “they have taken our land, they have taken away our identity, we no longer can hunt and fish.” I hear of the problems in our own region that are close to the Red Dog Mine, where they already have issues with hunting and fishing: drinking water being disrupted, continual dust on plants and vegetation, and the caribou migration is not the same.

I feel discouraged and disappointed. I think of those who are coming up after us once we pass on — how are they going to survive in the Iñupiaq way of living?

Who’s going to be the next Katie John — the one who fought for our subsistence? I hear of the governor and higher officials supporting Ambler Road, but there are so many who are afraid of what it will bring. I always feel afraid of retaliation, but I can’t think of that right now.

Iva Baker is a lifelong resident of Kotzebue.

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