While I can understand the logic behind attorney Donald Craig Mitchell’s recent op-ed in the Anchorage Daily News, I do not accept his conclusions and fear adoption of his approach would lead to even greater dysfunction and tragedy in rural Alaska. His response to unemployment and isolation in Alaska Native communities is to recommend voluntary, personal relocation, citing examples of migrations during the Great Depression, millions moving to where the jobs and money are. This is not the first time indigenous peoples have been encouraged to move: Many were forcibly moved to reservations far from their original homelands, with disastrous results.
Native people are “rooted” in their homelands, the way most human beings are in most of the world. Most Euro-Americans come from the mavericks in their ancestry who left, but were not responsible for the survival of their language or culture — they left millions back in the Old Country with responsibility for that. However, if a tribal citizen leaves home and assimilates into the dominant society, he contributes to the demise of his traditional culture and language. His despair and depression are not necessarily lessened by his move. And if everyone leaves, there would be no one left to speak for the land that sustained them for millennia. The local indigenous people are the voice of the Earth. If they all “move to town,” development projects like the Pebble mine will destroy the planet. We all need to find a way to create viable, healthy communities in rural Alaska, not promote their disappearance.
We have invested billions in restoring the Jewish people to their homeland after 2,000 years. All tribal societies view their homeland as sacred, God-given, the place they were meant to be, planted by the Creator. All Alaskans need to appreciate this and help our rural communities become sustainable economically, socially, politically and spiritually. Our state’s resources — oil, timber, mining, fishing and tourism — are all rural. It is essential we invest, therefore, in the future of rural communities and give back what the rest of us have taken from them.
— Rev. Michael J. Oleksa
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