My Turn: Resurrection of BBC bodes well for Alaska Natives

Posted: Wednesday, January 25, 2006

I am pleased to learn that the BBC Human Resource Development Corp. has been reactivated. This employment service company was formed in 1996 by Coeur Alaska, Klukwan Inc. Kake Tribal Corp. and Goldbelt. The BBC mission is to identify, recruit, screen, train and dispatch qualified Alaska Natives to the Kensington Project. The BBC successfully operated in 1996 through 1997, then went into suspension while Coeur conducted the latest round of permitting and environmental reviews.

Prior to the hiatus, the BBC successfully trained and dispatched numerous Southeast Alaska residents to work in various industries.

The three Native corporations chose to work with Coeur because they recognized the environmentally responsible approach to operations that Coeur employs. All four BBC members also recognized that a partnership would be mutually beneficial and allow all of them to better develop the wise use of their human, business and natural resources.

The area of the Kensington Project, on Lynn Canal and near Berners Bay, is part of the ancestral homelands of the Tlingit people of Southeast Alaska. Berners Bay is very important to Tlingits because of numerous cultural values. The east side of Lynn Canal and the Berners Bay area are part of the great migration route of the Kaagwaantaan Clan. It is a traditional subsistence harvest area and a historic gathering area where coastal Tlingit clans met to trade and renew social and economic ties with each other, and with Tlingits from the interior of Canada who came down routes along the icefields to Berners Bay.

According to oral history, mining in the early part of the 20th century was generally not disruptive to the traditional Tlingit way of life. The mining companies employed Tlingits in all phases of mining and provided work schedules to accommodate the subsistence lifestyle of the Tlingit people and the seasonal lifestyle of the local commercial fishermen. Tlingits were paid and treated the same as non-Tlingit employees. In fact, mining companies often hired local Tlingits for their knowledge of the region to build and construct in difficult terrain and to guide exploration parties.

The BBC partners recognized the historical role Tlingits had working to develop and operate the early mines in Southeast Alaska. As a result, the BBC was formed as a vehicle to help Coeur meet its manpower needs while providing Alaska Natives and other residents with an opportunity to secure meaningful employment with benefits the Kensington Project offers.

When it was established, rather than duplicate existing services the BBC chose to partner with existing Alaska organizations such as the Alaska Department of Community and Regional Affairs and Department of Labor, the University of Alaska Southeast, the Tlingit and Haida Central Council, local IRA's and the Southeast Regional Resource Center. These collaborated efforts were successful, a partnership model being followed again by the BBC which bodes well for continued success.

As a resident of Juneau I have confidence in the environmental stewardship and commitment of Coeur Alaska. I believe the current permit challenges will be met and the Kensington Project will operate. I trust in the expertise of the permitting agencies and encourage them to expedite their review and reissue the permits as soon as possible.

The value to the region in terms of long-term economic and employment gains will be substantial, when the Kensington is allowed to proceed. To the present, more than 200 people have been employed in the initial construction phase. Of those employed, Alaska Natives are 15 percent of the work force and the majority of employees are Alaska residents. These are good indicators of the commitment Coeur has to local hire for our region.

When the mine enters production in 2007, it will not only provide additional commerce and supportive services, the operation will require 225 full-time employees which equates to a $16 million-a-year payroll. The resumption of the BBC will ensure that Alaska Natives are a part of this regional work force and economic development.

• Juneau resident Kevin Hulse is a human resources professional who served as the first executive director of the BBC.

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