Alaska is growing beyond our history of resource extraction

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For thousands of years, the native peoples of Alaska have ruled this land. People with rich knowledge systems who for centuries have navigated these lands from a culture of sharing, regenerating with little or no waste, using each element as a sacred gift from the Earth.

Early European explorers began the practice of extracting and exploiting Alaska’s natural resources. The centering of extractive practices has been Alaska’s history, and it’s time for a change. Indigenous societies, elected leaders, the Department of Fish and Game and many other parts of our community structure need to change their perspective. It is time to move away from the usual extractive practices; we must look to our history of thousands of years of successful stewardship of the Earth as we move forward. But fear not: the transition is already underway.

In May 2022, hundreds of Alaskans gathered at the Nughelnik Just Transition Summit to talk about how regenerative economies are already shaping the future of our state.

Just transition is a framework that the International Labor Organization describes as “maximizing the social and economic opportunities of climate action while minimizing and carefully managing all challenges – including through effective social dialogue between all the groups concerned”.

Just transition means building things like food distribution systems and public services that center community care around individual gains. A good example was in 2021, when the Alaska Native Heritage Center hosted a fish drop, donating 25 pounds of salmon to many families during the pandemic.

Farms and greenhouses funded by community organizations and tribes are springing up across the state. The reciprocity network displayed each year during herring roe season is an impressive model of how communities can share resources with relatives across the state.

The tribes also build their broadband Internet access systems. The Akiak Tribe has launched its broadband network and Wrangell is a jumping off point for the Central Council of Alaskan Tlingit and Haida Indian Tribes to expand its broadband service to communities in Southeast Alaska.

Alaska also has many opportunities to invest in renewable energy – a field that harnesses endless forms of energy – instead of investing money and technology in the extraction of oil and gas deposits. gas hard to find.

A transition to renewable energy is not only possible; it is necessary. Alaska Native communities are at the forefront of the devastating effects of climate change. The extreme weather conditions that caused the deadly Haines landslide of 2020 and the storm that tore through western Alaska in September 2022 are becoming more common as the ocean warms.

Some communities in Alaska are already demonstrating that it is possible to count on renewable energies. Juneau’s electricity is already almost entirely renewable, relying on hydroelectric power supplemented by diesel fuel. Since 2014, Kodiak Island Borough has successfully obtained over 99% of its energy from readily available wind and hydroelectric resources.

People may not be able to envision a future without an extractive economy, but the roots of it are already there. Alaska Native Knowledge has created systems of care for the community and the environment for thousands of years.

Alaska Natives and countless ancestors have been the true stewards of the land since time immemorial and are the inventors of the only system that has worked to preserve fish populations. We need to know that we are not economically depressed; we have all the resources necessary to prosper.

Being self-sufficient by switching to renewable energy and growing food on our immensely fertile soil creates jobs for life and ensures food security. That’s richer than a 30-year-old mining project that only supplies one generation while destroying the land and food they already provide.

We need to recognize when our current systems are not working or are leaving many people behind, and we deserve better. When corporations become truly accountable to tribes and our tribal communities, then Alaska can become a community of care for all, for our children, our communities, and our Mother Earth. A just transition is happening. Will you join?

Lyndsey Brollini is Haida from Anchorage – Dena’ina Elnena – and currently resides in Juneau, home of the Aak’w Khwaan. She works as a storyteller highlighting indigenous and underrepresented communities in Alaska. Anaan’arar Sophie Irene Swope is Cup’ik and the director of the Mother Kuskokwim Tribal Coalition and a Kuskokwim community organizer at the Native Movement. She lives in Materilluk, also known as Bethel.

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