A First Step in Building a Healthy Economy for all: Alaska’s First Just Transition Summit

January 13, 2020

FAIRBANKS, AK: January 8-10. Local community organizations Native Movement, Fairbanks Climate Action Coalition (FCAC), Native Peoples Action, Gwich’in Steering Committee, The Alaska Center, Alaska Public Interest Research Group (AKPIRG) and Alaska Community Action on Toxics came together to create an open space for community dialogue and planning. Over the past 30 years, Alaska has lost species, languages and countless lives. The summit organizers believe that this is because we have ignored Indigenous voices and western science for too long. The Just Transition Summit created a space grounded in traditional knowledge where community leaders and organizers from a spectrum of industries and backgrounds could collaborate on their own terms.

Polly Carr, Executive Director of The Alaska Center, one of the supporting organizations expounded on the impetus for the summit: "For too long, those wishing to turn our state into a resource colony have tried to divide us, pitting communities and people against one another and telling us that our value is a measure of how much oil and minerals we can extract. It's time to shift that narrative and offer a different vision forward."

The foundation of the summit was not only to create a “new” path forward but to remember a knowledge system that has lived in harmony on these lands for thousands of years. Kohtr’elneyh, the name of the summit, means “We Remember” in the language of the lower Tanana Dene peoples, the Benhti Kanaga’ language. The summit inspired collaborations and collective strategies that address and build pathways out of a declining oil economy, engage communities and elected leaders to shift toward a more equitable and ecologically rooted economy and culture.

Enei Begaye one of the MCs for the summit and the Executive Director of Native Movement explained, “This summit took collective effort and planning and was an incredible way to start 2020! Over and over again I was inspired and rejuvenated by the dynamic and visionary energy at the summit. The Koht’relneyh: Remembering Forward Alaska Just Transition Summit brought together over 200 leaders from across the state to vision a just and equitable path forward for Alaska. Every keynote speaker, a group of panelists, table conversation, and connection made over the 3 days was full of sharing, learning, and movement forward.”

Highlights of the summit included a ​keynote speech from Winona LaDuke​ as well as Peter Hille on a plenary panel with community leaders and organizers. Music, art, and performance were showcased throughout the space and integrated into the presentations, breakout groups, opening, and closing ceremonies each day. This summit encouraged collaboration to break out of conventional approaches and look to the unique perspectives and voices often quieted in policy conversations in our state. Closing plenary speakers Ruth Miller and Ernestine Hayes shared the stage and a singular vision in their collaborative speech bringing together Elder and youth generational knowledge to create a path forward using their own personal histories and knowledge. They called for more than just allies but for “those who will intertwine so deeply that they will understand that the fight for justice must liberate us all.”

Attendees and summit organizers know this is just the first step in this process and are already planning convenings and conversations as the first Just Transition Summit came to a close. “I’m so excited for all that will come out of this summit. The next steps are regional convenings before the next state-wide summit; we look forward to opening the conversations up far and wide. We look forward to powerful collaborations moving forward,” Enei Begaye reveals.

Originally published by
Kelsey Wallace, Native Peoples Action

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