Alaska Native people have thrived in our mixed economies for decades — where subsistence hunting and fishing exist alongside paid employment. Our people and our traditional ways of life have survived the influx of various industries for generations. Often, we did not invite the industries to our traditional homelands and waters — but they came anyway. Our ancestors had to figure out how to keep our people and traditions alive — even when it seemed impossible. Today, our people, through the leadership of those who came before us and the various Alaska Native entities in each of our regions, have found effective ways to coexist with outside industries.
The monthslong debate over Ballot Measure 1 has caused us to evaluate our past, present and future livelihoods, all of which in some way, shape or form have been enhanced by our subsistence upbringings, and through opportunities in resource development such as mining, fishing, oil and timber development. These strands of experiences have helped shaped us into who we are as individuals and professionals.
As Alaska Native women, mothers, sisters and daughters who practice and uphold our traditions, we will not keep quiet when outside organizations actively push a regulatory overhaul that poses long-lasting threats to our communities, undermines our rights as private property owners, and attacks our subsistence and cash-based economies. Our land, rivers and oceans have provided both a subsistence lifestyle and an economic base that has allowed many Alaskans to build livelihoods and engage in the traditional ways of living that we cherish. Moving forward, we must maintain that balance and provide tools for current and future generations to be self-sufficient while building sustainable communities.
Ballot Measure 1 attempts to overhaul Alaska’s regulatory and permitting regime as it relates to fish habitat, but there are no examples of the current statute, Title 16, failing to protect fish habitat in the state of Alaska. Alaska needs a strong economic foundation, but over-regulation through this ballot measure would essentially undo the decades of work that went into building our communities and our state. We each work to promote and protect the survival of our communities, though many of our villages struggle to keep afloat in the face of high costs of living and economic and social challenges.
If there is no hope in the ability to build and improve infrastructure in our communities and responsibly develop resources that bring revenue to the state, what does that mean for villages with acute needs where basic services are not being met? These are energy-strapped villages where residents are paying more than $10 a gallon for heating fuel. Oftentimes, families must choose between heating their home and putting food on the table.
Ballot Measure 1 does not help us close that gap but threatens projects that our communities desperately need. Projects and infrastructure that will enhance the quality of life for residents are at risk. If passed, Ballot Measure 1 could negatively affect the ability to put in gravel pad foundations for homes and schools, extend airports and runways, and install water and sewer systems. The state of Alaska already struggles to pay for basic services like public safety and education. The majority of the state’s funding comes from oil revenue, which pays for our Village Public Safety Officers, State Troopers, our schools, our airport expansions, our justice systems and more. If we cannot continue to develop our resources, then the state cannot pay for these essential services that every society needs.
We believe that where there are jobs, there is hope. This initiative threatens Alaska jobs and the Alaska economy statewide. It undermines and threatens far too many facets of the lives that generations of leaders have worked to build. As Alaska Native women who are helping raise the next generation of Alaska Native people, we urge you to take a closer look at the overall impacts of Ballot Measure 1 and join us in voting no.
• Greta Schuerch is an Inupiaq woman woman residing in Kiana and Anchorage and Grace Petersen is a Yup’ik woman residing in Fairbanks. They penned this piece with a group of Alaska Native women, which includes Patuk Glenn, Bridget Anderson, Donna Bach, Joy Huntington, Genevieve John, Melissa Kookesh and Sarah Obed, all of whom are Alaska Native women. My Turns and Letters to the Editor represent the view of the author, not that of the Juneau Empire.