Prince of Wales Island-Wide Mining Symposium VI
April 27th and 28th, 2016, Klawock, Alaska
Thank you Fred, thank you all for being here, thank you for the invitation to speak. To the Alaska Native people who have inhabited these islands for a millennium, thank you for letting us be here.
Will Micklin spoke to some degree about the work we are jointly engaged in dealing with transboundary river issues. I’d like to just summarize our policy view as clearly as I can articulate it. With me today is my Senior Advisor, Barbara Blake. She is from this island. She will be here today and tomorrow. We will be available to enter into discussions with you, answer any questions you may have.
But the essence of our policy view is this— Alaska needs to protect its sovereign interest in those rivers, those environmental areas, that are impacted by mineral development or any other kind of development in the upper reaches of the transboundary rivers. We need to do it in a way that is open and transparent to all of those involved, all of those concerned and engaged, and to the public at large. We need to do it in a way that involves the tribal interest, and to that goal we have asked for and received a representative from the tribal interest in Southeast Alaska on Governor Walker’s Transboundary Working Group, which I chair. They are members on a government to government basis. And they are involved with us in the work that we do.
We will protect Alaska’s interest at every level. We have engaged with our federal government, the Canadian government and of course, with the British Columbia government. We are also engaged with the government of Yukon Territory, both on mineral issues and on fishery issues. There are two different treaties involved there with the United States and which involve the State of Alaska. We have been approached by the government ofNunavut, to enter into a memorandum of some kind with them as they look to development and opportunity in areas which they believe both tribal and state policy interests may be aligned. And, (they want) to have the opportunity to at least share the thinking around the evolution of policy in that region. Which as I think most of you in here know, is essentially a government of First Peoples in the northern part of Canada.
Last year, my first year in office, I amassed 152,000 air miles traveling the state. I’ve tried three times to get back to this island. I finally made it, although I had to make the trip shorter than I wanted because we have the Legislature still in session in Juneau and I have to get back there this evening.
I have spent virtually my entire adult life engaged with the people, the issues, the opportunities and the challenges in Southeast Alaska. I was born and raised in Yakutat. And through my involvement with Sealaska, their timber company, the Nature Conservancy of Alaska, and a range of other interests, I’ve had a lot of involvement with issues that have affected all of us here.
And I’ll tell you this, but I have to be careful how I say it, because sometimes people speak in code. You know what I mean. They say, ‘you people need jobs’, but what they really mean is ‘you lazy buggers, pull yourselves up by your bootstraps’. But that is not what I’m talking about. Because for a long time … I was an angry man. I’ve railed at the federal and the state governments over public policy in our region. I fought hard to create opportunities to build our communities. And I want to share with you for just a few minutes where I see us now.
Some of you here in this room were involved, as I was, in what was called the Tongass Futures Roundtable. An effort that was begun by environmental interests. It involved state and federal representation, non-governmental, tribal and environmental interest (groups) and community leadership from across the region to try to build a sense of commonality, a purpose in the future of the Tongass National Forest. It was an effort to try to move away from constant litigation that has determined public policy in this incredibly fragile and beautiful area. Often times as to the detriment, I think, of the generally recognized interests of the people who live in the region. The … Tongass Futures Roundtable effort lasted for about five years. It produced some good results. It brought together a range of interest and discussions that continue to this day. But it also created this legacy, and let me tell you what it is, from my view and you can disagree with me. When the issues are so large that people can make them larger than you are, they win. When issues are so large, that those who have a very strong purpose and a very clear goal, and they are arrayed against a very discreet range of smaller places, smaller voices that do not speak in a collective way—they always win. Think about that. They always win.
What happened at the Tongass Futures Roundtable was this— the Native community and I think a broader array of interests in the Tongass Futures Roundtable’s effort, tried to give the Tongass National Forest a sense of Native identity, talked about giving features to the Tongass. In the public statement of those places, the naming of those places; give them Native names, not exclusively, we share this land with so many others now that when I say Native I certainly speak to the Tlingit, Haida and Tsimshian people who were first here on this land, but also include, without question, all of those who have come to this place because they love it just as much as we do and want to make it their home just as much those who have lived here for millennia do. We wanted to be able to say that the Tongass National Forest is a Native place. Not exclusively a Native place, never that anymore. But a place in which Native history is palpable–the traditions, the culture, that is so important to what this place is. It should be in the public sensibility, in the memory, in the vision of the public. And there was an effort in the Tongass Futures Roundtable to give the Tongass National Forest an identity beyond a governmental place of conflict. And do you know what happened? As hard as we made our case that the Tongass is a Native place, it became a salmon place. The conscious effort of the environmental community engaged in that entire process was to say the Tongass National Forest is all about the salmon-period. End of story.
We are salmon people; maybe we should be satisfied with that. Salmon is important to us. Salmon, in many ways, defined who we are in this place. But that wasn’t the purpose of that effort. The purpose of that effort was to remove the human face from the future of the Tongass National Forest. If you do that you don’t have to deal with people where they live. If you do that you don’t have to deal with the pesky business of many small communities in a place that want to make a life for themselves and their children. You dehumanize a place, and you’ve won in the public consciousness of a nation.
It is our responsibility to give the Tongass, to give the places in which we live, a human face. The face of those who live here, the place of those whose home has been here for millennia. A place for those who have come most recently, who want also to live and create a place for their children. I’m sure many of you here have been seduced by the notion that the Tongass is a salmon place. It’s an easy thing to say. It makes us all feel good. But whenever I come up against it and people come to my office and say, “Would you sign this thing and do you support this effort?” I say I love salmon and I agree the Tongass is in many ways a salmon place. But most of all, it is a place where people live and try to make lives in itself and their children. And if you don’t embrace that, I don’t embrace your goals—simple as that.
I also want to say that after all of these years of being a passionate and angry and outspoken … I’m now a pleasant easy-going nice guy. I tried to be positive in building relationships. I work hard to make sure that every voice is heard. I try to listen to everyone who has something to say. I work hard to represent all of the people of our state-it is the base upon which I was elected to statewide public office.
In my experience, as I deal on a statewide basis, through all the issues and challenges we face as people who live in the smaller communities of Alaska, in rural Alaska, in Native Alaska, pick your own words. I’ve come to this— it’s a place I never articulated before because I was afraid ofthe words. I was afraid of saying it’s all about jobs. That kind of puts you over in the development camp. I was afraid to talk ask, “How come people are leaving?” Or, “Why aren’t our children wanting to stay in our places?” I was getting into the life of the people who live in the communities every single day and know best.
But when I’m asked as Lt. Governor, working with Governor Walker, looking at programs and policies and dollars that ultimately are meant to be responsive to all of these things, I’ll tell you it’s not simple, it’s not the only answer, far from it. But it is a place that must constantly be in your frame of reference. Even those of you, who feel so passionately about the environment that you don’t want mines, and you don’t want this and you don’t want that. But we have to have jobs. We literally have to have jobs in our communities. Real jobs. Real jobs in which we can take pride, jobs we know will be there for our children. Jobs that we know that will give us the lifestyle, the wellbeing, the economic resources to be able to both create opportunity for ourselves and to deal with the realities of life that our children face.
If we want them to live where we live in these places that we call home. When we say ‘economic development is important’ and then we find a hundred things to oppose as opposed to proposing. To being able to say, ‘let’s create an economy’ in every place which we live. We know that comes really hard. We know it’s among the hardest things that we can address. It’s so easy to say, ‘I oppose something’. It’s so hard to say, ‘I live in this place. I’m going to work as hard as I can to create an economy where my children have a life’.
That’s what we have to do; it’s as simple as that. It’s going to require us to think in different ways than we have. It’s going to require us to come together as communities. It’s going to require us to think differently. It’s going to require us to go to places in our minds, our collective capacities, which we haven’t before. And I’m not saying at all that it’s all about jobs. Jobs are important. Whenever someone says I oppose this in my community, you need to look them in the eye and say let’s talk about building an economy here. Where what you want and I want can be sustained. Otherwise, you’re not having a conversation. Otherwise, you’re not making progress.
We’ve lived too long with the easy business of saying I oppose something. We need to begin the focus, (and we have for a long time) none of which I’m saying is new. I’m just trying to create an emphasis from my experience in my life, that in all that you discuss here, with all of the passion that is in this room, also ask, ‘How can we keep what we’ve got and build on it in a way that we can look out 25 years and be confident that we have jobs? That we have a place where children can live and grow. That we have a place here that in which we have a quality of life is the kind that we dream of when we think about the future of our kids. Thank you so much for this opportunity to be with you this morning and say a few words. (END) (Applause)