Survival without public lands?

Posted: Sunday, October 11, 2009

How can we survive as a community without access to public lands?

News of the Senate hearing on Senate Bill 881, the Southeast Alaska Native Land Entitlement Finalization Act - also known as the "Sealaska bill," has sent a wave of disbelief and disappointment throughout our community. For years we have been reaching out to our senators and representatives, imploring them to take a closer look at the devastating impact this legislation will have on Edna Bay and other Prince of Wales communities. We have sent more than 1,200 letters to our government over the past two years trying to get someone to listen.

Many Edna Bay residents have invested a lifetime's work into what they have here, never imagining they could be cut off from the public land and resources they depend on to provide for their families. It's hard not to feel a sense of betrayal, like victims of false advertising. The state offers land for sale in remote wilderness areas enticing people with the opportunity to experience the "true Alaska lifestyle" of living off the land. ANILCA provides them access to the public resources they need to support that lifestyle. People believe in that dream. Some invest everything they have for the opportunity to live that dream.

But now our congressional representatives want to help Sealaska Corp. pull the rug out from under these dreams and all of this investment by transferring nearly 32,000 acres of public land around our community to a private corporation.

The residents of Edna Bay deserve better. We have built our lives here in good faith. Multiple generations of families live here. We have businesses dependent on continued access to the public lands surrounding our community.

Remote communities must have guaranteed access to public lands in order to survive. Sealaska can select its land from many other islands away from isolated, resource-dependent and subsistence-based communities. We cannot relocate our community.

We understand and support the state and federal governments' commitment to the finalizing of ANCSA and its goal of creating economic prosperity for Alaska Natives. We are all part of the larger community of Southeast Alaska. And as a community with diverse needs and interests, we must learn to respect and cooperate with each other. We want to work with all of our neighbors, but supporting the prosperity of one neighbor at the expense of the others is not the right answer.

There must be a better solution.

Myla Poelstra

Sunrise Lodge & General Store

Edna Bay

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