My turn: Alaska Natives should benefit from AGIA, too

Posted: Tuesday, September 23, 2008

We want benefits for the Alaska natural gas pipeline crossing our lands.

I'm bothered daily by the fact that Doyon, Athna and Chugach, especially the leadership, are not demanding that lawmakers draft an amendment to the Alaska Gasline Inducement Act requesting 20 percent Native required hires and 20 percent Native ownership of the gas line, royalty share or first refusal for Doyon services.

It's too late to address the law directly now, but perhaps we can approach TransCanada Corp. to implement such benefits. We are the aboriginal peoples of the lands, and we have a connection to the land the Alaska Native Claims Settlement Act didn't change. You can't force a Native to be someone else just by a law.

We have every right to protest AGIA for not including one iota of benefit for Interior Athabascan people whose land this gas line is going to cross and disturb. Write letters to the editor, protest, bother your Native legislators and speak out about it now that the state has national attention. Say you want 20 percent required Native hires like the Section 29 agreement with Alpine Deal, but unlike them, follow through with it. Also, ask about royalty shares and spur lines for the villages.

Our villages are suffering like never before from fuel prices, and this gas line is going to carry the fuel right past us. Are you going to let that happen? No, don't let that happen. Ask for the trust and responsibility owed by the U.S. government. It is the government's responsibility to see that we are secured in our homelands. We are not secured when we have to pay $9 a gallon and choose between getting water and heating our log home. We were largely ignored during the ANCSA, the Alaska National Interest Lands Conservation Act and now AGIA.

I know Tanana Chiefs Conference President Jerry Isaac is working on these issues, and I'm proud of him. However, I don't see anything from the Doyon, Athna and Chugach boards. They're going to have to give easements to TransCanada. It wouldn't surprise me if the state slipped its way under the non-Native-created language in ANCSA to avoid any dues a normal easement or right-of-way agreement would give Native corporations. But as it stands, ANCSA consistently cuts our legs off with every issue concerning the state, because it was written by non-Natives who were in government during 1971.

I really hope Athabascans will rally for a system change someday. ANCSA will forever work for the state of Alaska more than for Alaska Natives. It's a horrible law that doesn't help our rights as aboriginal and sovereign peoples. It's just not useful. I can tell Native people are starting to see it. Nevertheless, we must demand from the state and TransCanada our share of the pie, since the gas line is going to create more activity on our lands, thus, meaning more wildlife disturbances and human traffic.

It will definitely take a toll on those peaceful Athabascan lands. We also want to monitor the environmental concerns, keep out sport and commercial hunters, minimizing traffic for the good of the land and wildlife, and have more ownership. We want more sovereign control of our Athabascan lands.

Tlingits can benefit by lobbying state lawmakers, stating that Native required hires can be from Native villages along the corridor first, then the Doyon Region, and then all Natives of Alaska. By helping the Athabascans win benefits off the pipeline, it'll be a win for Native rights across Alaska, and it will give all Natives jobs - something desperately sought.

Our villages are disappearing fast because a giant labor movement has begun. Our people are pouring into the cities because the tribal governments are finding it hard to meet employment. Getting benefits off AGIA can be a step to solving this problem.

By exercising our sovereign right to benefit from any development on our lands, we'll feel empowered politically because people will be out working on the pipeline, and the social problems will decrease and thus creating time and space for tribal governments to create infrastructure and jobs. It's a win-win situation to speak out about getting jobs and ownership over the pipeline.

• Matt Gilbert lives in Fairbanks and grew up in Arctic Village. He is pursuing a master's degree in rural development at the University of Alaska Fairbanks.

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