Saturday, November 24, 2007

Villagers Unite! Or Not...

Economic development has long been a concern in rural Alaska. Now a group of village corporations is trying something new. The Alaska Native Village CEO Association is a way to build relationships between well-to-do corporations and smaller, less successful ones.

Other 'bootstrap' solutions exist. RurAL CAP has been trying to promote culturally relevant services and UAF's College of Rural and Community Development makes it possible for rural students to attend college in a culturally sensitive environment. Preference for Native hire has been tried in many industries and is now a focus in Anchorage construction trades. The CDQ program has generated $110 million on behalf of 25,000 Western Alaska residents since 1992. Of course, AFN has been addressing native issues for 41 years.

Here's the problem: Native groups are so diverse that one voice cannot speak for all. Television and political action committees often ignore both sides to the debate. Natural resource development (especially mining and drilling) screws up the environment. But it pays the bills and many Natives benefit from the economic boon.

Case #1, Upper Yukon Athabascans strongly oppose ANWR drilling. But the majority of native groups support drilling. AFN even passed a resolution saying so.

Case #2, Pebble Mine could be a huge economic success yet Bristol Bay Natives fall on both sides of the debate. Some pro and con.

Case #3, Red Dog Mine is the world's largest producer of Zinc and the largest polluter in the U.S. But does the major media expose Red Dog pollution? Not so much... because NANA is happy to get the money.

Destruction of subsistence economies is a hot-button topic whenever government supports ANWR or opposes the Pebble Mine. But we should be wary when media and politicians are so far out of touch with the local citizens.

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