November is Native American Heritage Month. Here in Alaska, this means centering the people who have shaped this land since time immemorial. Around 20% of Alaska’s population is Indigenous, but Native culture plays a much more significant role in our history and in our future. Alaska Natives have stewarded these lands successfully for 10,000 years - we live every day on Native Land. Native American Heritage Month is a time to reflect on this legacy of stewardship and look forward.
To heal from past crimes and solve our most dire social and political problems, we must work to Decolonize and Indigenize our ways of life. As a conservation organization, this means owning our place in colonizing history. It also means looking at new ways to understand and build a future together. It means learning from elders and revitalizing Native languages; upholding self-determination for tribes and shifting funding to Native tribes, villages, and organizations; living within the limits of the land and eating local foods, and deep listening. Everyone who lives in Alaska - Native or not - can do these things.
This reframing, collective healing, and visioning are what a Just Transition aims to do. “Just Transition” refers to a transition away from extractive industries and practices like oil and gas and historically colonial ideas of community and economy. A Just Transition moves us towards practices informed by Indigenous knowledge. A Just Transition doesn’t aim to return us to the world as it was before settlers set foot in Alaska; a Just Transition seeks to choose policies that will be best for all Alaskans.
We already see examples of Just Transition principles at work. We see it in the recent election of Mary Peltola, the first Alaska Native woman in Congress. We see it in the failure of ANWR lease sales and the emergence of small-scale solar projects in rural Alaska. We see Just Transition embodied in Native leadership at all levels of government, including in the co-management of Alaskan lands and waters. And we see it in the reemergence of Native languages in our schools and towns. These accomplishments, and many more, are thanks to the hard work and vision of Indigenous leaders across the state.
But we have so much work left to do.
Next week, our state and country will head to the polls. These are the lands of the Dena’ina, Tlingit, Haida, Ahtna, Sugpiak, Tanana Dene, Yup’ik, Inupiat, and so many more, and our politics must reflect this. We must ensure that Native communities have full and unrestricted access to voting by translating ballots and information into Native languages, providing voting assistance for elders, and streamlining voter registration and voting by mail. We must elect leaders who will represent all Alaskans. We need Native leadership and leadership that listens to Native communities. The table needs to expand. A transition is inevitable; justice is not. However, those sitting at our decision-making tables can ensure that the transition is a just one and no Alaskans are left behind.
Voting is a vision for the future. Our choices at the polls must reflect our understanding and history with these lands, but they also must shine a light toward a thriving future for All Alaskans.
Happy Native American Heritage Month, and happy voting.
Don’t forget to have your absentee ballot postmarked or go vote in-person by November 8. This is a huge election and our values are on the line.
The Alaska Center
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