Kim Reitmeier

COMMENTARY: Stand for Salmon will hurt rural Alaska

Generations of Alaska Native people have revered salmon for its life-sustaining properties and role in the growth and survival of our communities. To say that Alaska Native people respect fish, especially salmon, is an understatement. Salmon constitutes a big part of who we are as Native people. As a proud Alaska Native woman and the Executive Director of the ANCSA Regional Association, I have the privilege of working with the CEOs of the twelve Alaska Native Regional Corporations. Together, our corporations, formed under the Alaska Native Claims Settlement Act of 1971, are owned by over 127,000 Alaska Native people. The Association exists to promote and foster the continued growth and economic strength of the Alaska Native Regional Corporations on behalf of their shareholders. Our mission is simple: collaborate to create a sustainable socioeconomic future for Alaska Native people. Recently, our organization took a public stand opposing Ballot Measure 1, also called “Stand for Salmon,” which its organizers claim is designed to protect fish, including salmon. Some Alaskans question why we became involved, and why we chose not to support the Ballot Measure. It’s critical for our shareholders and others to understand that the position we took was in no way “anti-salmon,” as some false accusations have claimed. On the contrary, our position is very much pro-Alaska, and especially pro-rural Alaska. Salmon have provided the bedrock of our communities for hundreds of years and must be protected for the next generations; no one disputes that core precept. But this ballot measure is so deeply flawed, and does so little to actually protect salmon that we were compelled to speak against it. Indeed, we feel so strongly about this issue that we have committed our official support to the ballot measure group, Stand for Alaska, which opposes the Stand for Salmon measure. It’s important to note that we do not take issue with the purported purpose of Ballot Measure 1, which claims a desire to protect fish, especially salmon. However, when more is learned about the ballot measure, including who wrote it, the lack of public input, the legal questions it raises, and the economic harm that it would cause to our communities, we could not in good faith stay silent. Not only would its passage jeopardize important resource development projects in Alaska, but also smaller infrastructure projects in rural Alaska. I listened with great interest when Doyon Ltd. President and CEO Aaron Schutt told a group that if the ballot measure passes, water and sewer projects would become all but impossible to construct in rural Alaska. As an organization whose membership is dedicated to improving the quality of life for thousands of Alaska Native shareholders and descendants, we can’t allow this to happen. We must stand together and reject this ballot measure that purports to be designed to protect salmon, but that will likely set our communities and Alaska Native people back by decades. Salmon has sustained our people for many generations; it’s become a part of who we are as people and what has allowed our communities to thrive and exist today. It represents our past, present, and future — and it’s engrained in our heritage. But on this issue, we must join and stand together for Alaska and our future by voting no on Ballot Measure 1. ^ Kim Reitmeier is the executive director of the ANCSA Regional Association.
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