With so many of the state’s Native corporations gathered in one place during the annual Alaska Federation of Native convention, it can be an ideal time for a shareholder to make their voice heard.
KNOM’s Emily Hofstaedter reports on the “Justice for the People, Justice for the Earth” demonstration against resource-extraction projects held outside the Carlson Center last week.
Native Movement Organizer Ruth Miller greeted a crowd of convention goers gathered near a flagpole.
They came to rally for a variety of purposes. That was evident from the vast assortment of colorful signs protesting everything from drilling in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge (ANWR) to the Pebble Mine in Bristol Bay, and the proposed Donlin Gold project on the lower Kuskokwim.
“I’m really against Graphite One,” Danielle Topkok of Teller told KNOM.
Topkok loves living a subsistence lifestyle, she says it’s her favorite thing about being from Teller. She’s currently learning how to put-up seal meat but worries those types of activities could be threatened by Graphite One, a company proposing a graphite mining project located near the Imuruk Basin outside of the community.
The “Justice for the Earth, Justice for the People” rally wasn’t Topkok’s first time speaking out against the project.
“I went to their meetings and told them I’m against them (Graphite One).”– Danielle Topkok
When asked if she was hopeful the mine could bring jobs to the area, Topkok shook her head no.
“We don’t need that. We’re not greedy. We’d rather have our land.”
But some Teller families are hopeful for the opportunities that Graphite One could bring if it’s done responsibly, like Mary Ellen Fritz, who is also a Teller Native Corporation shareholder.
“I’m pretty excited about the business ventures being taken on and the opportunities it will bring for our children’s education and the economic development of our community.”– Mary Ellen Fritz
Fritz grew up in Teller but moved to Anchorage to give her kids what she considers better opportunities for education and jobs. She jokingly calls herself an “urban Eskimo”, meaning she likes to supplement her family by hunting, fishing, and gathering berries but says she also likes going to Wal-Mart and having running water.
Fritz was at AFN but did not participate in the rally. Though she’s optimistic for Graphite One, she’s not in favor of all proposed mining projects.
“I’m fully against the Pebble Mine just because the Pebble Mine in it’s location stands to be too big of a risk where the Graphite mine where they’re planning to put it doesn’t look like it should have that big of an impact should things start to go wrong.”
Fritz says that so far, Graphite One looks like it is being handled responsibly. She also says that they need to make sure they are consulting the community in their planning.
Regional Director for Native Movement Shawna Larson says the rally last week was organized in part to get the attention of the Native corporations attending the AFN convention.
“We’re calling on corporations and the State of Alaska to not put profit and corporations over people and the land and in particular, our traditional foods and our way of life as traditional people.”
Organizers for Native Movement said they would determine the success of the rally by the action taken by Native corporations and Alaska Native leaders.
On the convention’s mainstage, climate change and protection of indigenous lands were dominating themes. As the convention came to a close last Saturday, delegates spent over an hour debating and ultimately passing a youth-authored bill declaring a state of emergency on climate change. The convention also discussed a resolution calling for more tribal consultation in land planning and permitting in resolution 19-35. The final version of that resolution has not yet been published.
As for Graphite One, Teller Native Corporation President William E. Topsekok says the corporation welcomes shareholder’s concerns but right now, the corporation is still neutral in their position on the mine.
Image at top: Demonstrators At the “Justice for the People, Justice for the Earth” Rally Outside AFN in Fairbanks, 2019. Photo from Emily Hofstaedter, KNOM (2019).