14 November 2006


I don't think the ADN knows what they're doing but they've inadvertently published a fascinating series of articles on the relationship between Alaska natives and resource development.

First, there was an interesting look at the Donlin Creek mine and Barrick's apparently stellar record of attracting and retaining Alaska natives (though the numbers in the piece are entirely from Barrick, it appears):

This year, Barrick doubled the Donlin workforce to 214 employees. The company also set a goal of doubling exploration drilling, to 275,000 feet.

Both goals were daunting, said Bill Bieber, operations manager for Barrick.

But Barrick preserved Placer's local-hire track record, Bieber announced Thursday to an audience of more than 100 gathered at the Alaska Miners Association's week-long convention in Anchorage.

Then, there was the lengthy look at offshore drilling and whaling and how the two co-exist or don't.

The loss of land previously available for subsistence hunting, with the impact of industrial noise on offshore hunting, form two issues causing unease about the oil industry among North Slope communities.

And an increasing volume of offshore exploration activity in the Chukchi and Beaufort seas off the northern coast is adding significantly to that unease.

There was also the report on Alaska native corporations and their dramatically increased revenues.

Alaska's Native corporations are casting a long shadow over Alaska's big business scene.

A spate of reports and statistics published this year show increasing dominance by Native corporations in the last few years.

None of this is particularly new, of course, but the delicate balance in Alaska native communities between development and traditional ways of life is largely under-reported.

As I read the situation, there's a strong strand of thought that Alaska natives should retain and return to the subsistence way of life that has characterized their culture for generations. Then there's the strand of thought that urges responsible resource development and the jobs and revenue that come with it. That after all, is the only "productive" way (in an economic sense) to use the land the native corporations have.

The two strands of thought are not mutually exclusive but they start running into each other when resources are found in good hunting lands or when some people look forward to the paycheque that comes from a resource development job rather than the opportunity to go hunting.

As a non-native, I'll never be able to fully and truly appreciate the deep connection Alaska natives have to their land and their way of life... but I can at least appreciate the terms of the debate, a debate that is frequently overlooked by those of us in the (predominantly non-native) media.

No comments: