Above photo: Charlene Aqpik Apok, Gender Justice Director, introduces speakers from across Alaska for the Defend the Sacred Rally.
Anchorage, Alaska – A large crowd gathered and rallied outside the Annual Alaska Federation of Natives (AFN) convention Thursday afternoon around a large hand-painted banner that read “Defend the Sacred: Extraction is NOT our way of life”. The rally was organized by a coalition of Alaska Native groups to connect the growing crisis of environmental and community health impacts of the extraction industry on Indigenous communities around the State. Host organizations included, United Tribes of Bristol Bay, Mother Kuskokwim, Native Movement and Grandmothers Growing Goodness.
“The Willow Project will impact our future generations. Everyone has a right to protect their health and safety. Everyday, I worry that toxic emissions around us are ruining our health. Is that 1.7 million pounds contributing to my community’s neurological disorders? Oil and gas extraction is not the answer.” – Former Mayor of Nuiqsut, Rosemary Ahtuangaruak
As more people exited the conference at the Dena’ina Center many circled and cheered around the rally organizers and speakers with more posters and painted cut-outs of caribou and salmon. April Lynn Monroe, Evansville Tribal Member, took to the microphone to call attention to the Ambler Road Project which has a 60-Day public comment period with the Bureau of Land Management starting Friday, October 20th.
“42 tribes from the Interior of Alaska have a standing resolution against the Ambler Road, if this road happens we would be paying for corporations to contaminate Alaskan lands and leave Alaskans without a sustainable source of food.” – April Lynn Monroe, Evansville Tribal Member.
The theme of the AFN Annual Convention this year is “Our ways of life”, which many of the rally signs and speakers spoke to when highlighting how critical their relationship to the land is for hunting, fishing, and food sharing with their communities.
“The people in my hometown of Nome are very worried about the effect of large scale mining. Senators Murkowski + Sullivan, and even my own Native Corporation are buying into the false solution of critical minerals in a sacred place, the Kigluaik Mountains. Kigluaik means ‘wind that comes from everywhere’. We WILL defend the sacred. Our government is giving U.S. taxpayer dollars to foreign mining company to extract resources. A foreign mining company is going to get a free road to resources. A foreign mining company is going to get a free deep water port. It’s very clear that mine can not stand on it’s own. It’s investors need taxpayer support, but we should not give that support to them.” – Austin Ahmasuk, Environmental Justice Co-Director at Native Movement
The closing speech was given by Allanah Hurley, Executive Director of United Tribes of Bristol Bay, a Tribal consortium working to protect the traditional Yup’ik, Dena’ina, and Alutiiq ways of life in Southwest Alaska, an Instrumental force in decades long fight with the Pebble Mine.
“For the first time in 20 years our people were able to sleep a little more soundly when in January the EPA finalized protections that stopped the Pebble Mine. That would not have happened without people like you, standing in the cold, waving signs, and standing with us. And we stand here today with YOU. The only way we are going to be able to protect our way of life, and our people, is TOGETHER.”
Unfortunately we are also here to say the governor is doing everything in his power to overturn those protections and there are still over 20 more active mining claims in our region, as the state continues to try and turn our home into a toxic mining district. We are here to say, hell no. We will not rest until our grandkids don’t have to carry this burden the same way that we have.” – Allanah Hurley, Dillingham, United Tribes of Bristol Bay
For years communities have been speaking their concerns over the extraction industry and the harm that it perpetuates on Alaskan land, water and air. As Indigenous people, we have always known that the world is interconnected and that when you take from the land or water, you pay for it in other ways. Today, we are seeing that cost, with the loss of the salmon on the Yukon River, the decline of the caribou herd populations and the scarcity of the moose, all of these issues are in part caused by either extractive development or climate change caused by extractive development.