Similar to many Alaskans, I began my career aboard a fishing vessel, thriving as a commercial fisherman. I have traveled up the Stikine, Unuk and Taku Rivers. I have spoken to the families along those rivers, as many are my clan brothers and sisters. I am a lifelong Alaskan or, as some would see me, a Tlingit whose culture has over 10,000 years of proven ties to the land on which salmon lovers reside. For the Tlingit Nation, this resource is more than sustenance or provision of income; it is the history and traditions passed down since time immemorial.
Our salmon makes Alaska unique, but beyond our fisheries, our lands make up the original homeland to over 229 federally recognized tribes. These tribal people were the original stewards of the great state of Alaska. What treaties have divided through boundary, the Haida, Tlingit and Tsimshian people have unified through ancestral ties. We have a proven history of utilizing our resources beginning with the Alaska Native people and continuing with the diversified community we have today.
The mines developing in British Columbia have all Southeast Alaskans, including myself, concerned. However, it is not within the state’s capability or desire to “shut down” these mines. We will establish a relationship with British Columbia on the foundation of common concerns and interests over the welfare of our shared waterways, Native communities and fishing industries.
British Columbia’s Minister of Energy and Mines, Bill Bennett, has accepted our invitation to visit Southeast Alaska in August to discuss our concerns. During his visit, we hope to reveal the beauty of our waters and the importance of sustainability to the culture, ecosystem and economy of all Alaskans. These visits will foster growth in our partnership as we move forward with an agreement that protects all interested parties. Let’s communicate and collaborate in such a way to allow for mutual understanding over the water quality throughout our rivers.
Perhaps we have not moved at the pace some organizations have expected, but as history has demonstrated, any meaningful and long-lasting change comes with time. The state is seeking a route that will take into consideration partnership building, budget limitations, transparency, financial responsibility and the collecting and sharing of information. Without fully considering all the components involved, we risk a short-term solution to a long-standing concern.
That being said, since I stepped into the role of lieutenant governor, we’ve participated in over 40 meetings with entities and individuals concerned over the water quality and resource integrity for these rivers. This administration’s Internal Transboundary Waters Workgroup meets every two weeks with a progressive agenda to tackle all the detailed tasks required for a fully sound, stable and strong plan for maintaining our transboundary rivers.
Our Internal Transboundary Waters Workgroup has upheld the importance of collecting baseline data for the Taku, Stikine and Unuk Rivers. We also understand that now, more than ever, we have to find ways to work with other entities involved in collecting this data. The state’s budget circumstances provide the opportunity for creativity in our ability to work together toward a common goal. We will work with all partners within Alaska and British Columbia to ensure our preliminary data is as accurate and complete as necessary to fulfill quality data standards.
In August, my office will host a meeting to listen and engage tribes, fishermen/women, conservation groups, industry, federal government, congressional delegation, state legislators, and local governments. We will not limit our engagement to one meeting, but will continue the dialogue as long as this administration remains in office.
Transparency in our coordination will remain a priority as we move forward with our transboundary initiatives. I will commit to continued collaboration with all partners interested in the well-being of our waters.
Alaska has clear interests in protecting with vigilance our responsible self-interest. Our waters are what make Alaska unique and must be protected. Alaska’s involvement will be in the continued protection of our natural resources.
• Byron Mallott is lieutenant governor of Alaska.