Today in our debates and discussions about the oil industry and Alaska, I would like to write a letter or message that says the following and share it with our government and others:
We lifelong Alaskans, some of whom have had ancestors living here for thousands of years, while others of us came only decades ago, want those of you who have come here recently to understand us as Alaskan people.
Yes, it is true that some of us speak languages much different than English. That is our heritage. These languages are as complex and capable of explaining the world around us as are other languages. We have seen how others have said that this is all wrong, and we must acculturate and speak just one foreign language — English.
Yes, some may have different beliefs than more recent immigrants have. We realize that we are a part of nature, and not above or beyond it. Some have stories of Raven and Eagle, stories of the Woman under the sea, how things came to be and are. And yet others of us believe in a Savior of the world, and various religions. We accept all those different beliefs among us.
Yes, we have lived here through the times when various outsiders came to take what they could from the lands and seas around us to benefit themselves, but not us. We recall how others came to take the pelts of animals as furs, how others came to take gold, copper, salmon and timber for their benefit and profit. We have lived through those times.
We now fully understand that, for many, what we enjoy comes from others who have come to take our resources, especially the oil found deep below the lands that people used for thousands of years to survive. We are threatened and are told to be full of fear because if the newcomers leave, we will have to survive in a deserted wilderness.
We are told that now, the only way to survive is to do what the newcomers say we must do for their benefit.
But what others say is not the absolute truth. It may be that long after the newcomers have departed, as they have done in the past, Alaskans are and will still be here.
Two hundred years ago, Europeans exploring what to them was a new world, found that, as one voyager explained, “The people here were so knowledgeable about trade that they would make a Dutch trader look naive.”
And so as oil and mining companies try to persuade others that they must have their way, Alaskans are hesitant to accept their demands. Alaskans have seen the same thing in the past, and have survived. It is true that those who depended on those outside businesses left. But Alaskans remained and prospered.
And so, oil and mining companies, and those who depend upon you for survival may leave if you don’t get your way. Alaskans will remain because it has become our homeland.
This would be my letter. I recall a day in the interior village of Alaska decades ago, Neal Charlie, of Minto, stood next to me. He looked out over the Minto Flats and said to me “We are here. We have been here. We will be here long after you newcomers leave. This is our home.”
• Olson is an Auke Bay resident