Alaskans rally for justice at AFN in Fairbanks

by Defend the Sacred AK

Alaskans rallied Thursday, October 17 in front of the Carlson Center at Alaska Federation of Natives (AFN) convention to voice the urgent need for climate action and call for an immediate end to proposed projects that would threaten Indigenous hunting and fishing areas. The impacts of climate change are affecting Alaska Native communities right now — villages must be moved, wildfires rage, melting permafrost changes the land, and people are losing their lives.

A coalition of Native organizations are calling on Alaskan Native leadership to move with urgency to address climate change and stop harmful projects. This year’s AFN theme, “Good Government: Alaskan Driven,” encourages a conversation about tribal sovereignty as a solution for our people’s well-being. Indigenous rights are the remedy for this crisis.

Young Alaskans Quannah Potts (17) and Nani’eezh Peter (15) succeeded in introducing a resolution during the Elders & Youth conference to declare a state of emergency on climate change. “We as Alaska Native youth are asking our leaders, as is traditional, to consider the future of their grandchildren & the generations to come.”

First Chief for the Traditional Chief Curyung Tribal Council, Thomas Tilden said, “It is up to us to ensure our children and our children’s children have a future. Pebble Mine has come to Bristol Bay, and all they see is minerals. They don’t see the water, the richness, the people. The water is holy. When water is contaminated, it destroys out home, our food, our people, our language, our way of life.”

Mary Matthias, Orutsararmiut Native Council’s Natural Resources Director, similarly raised alarm about the impacts the proposed Donlin Mine would have on the Yukon-Kuskokwim Delta: “How can we call our home ‘home,’ when the Donlin mine fails & kills salmon in the river? It’s our land, it’s our home — not the corporations’. For them to stand by and do nothing, shame on them. They should bring jobs into the communities that benefit our home now and into the future.”

Speakers from Southeast Alaska urged for unity in divisive times. Said Dylan Lee: “The pillars upon which we built our ways of life and our culture are in jeopardy on all fronts.” Shawaan Jackson-Gamble of the Central Council of Tlingit and Haida Tribes said, “I think it is time as Indigenous People we unite, because it will be powerful when we all come together.”

Arctic Refuge protector, Gwich’in Steering Committee Executive Director Bernadette Dementieff, said “Giving up is not an option”.

Samantha Eyre, a relative of Cody Eyre’s–who was fatally shot by law enforcement in Fairbanks on Christmas Eve, 2017–spoke to the crowd about the scale of injustice present within rural law enforcement in Alaska. Eyre connected the issues of violence with relationship to the earth saying, “the land is integral to our being.”

Defend the Sacred AK is an Alaskan movement to boldly uplift our sacred connection to each other, the earth, and all living beings.