Rex A. Rock Sr.

GUEST COMMENTARY: Why we left AFN

In mid-December, the Arctic Slope Regional Corporation board of directors voted unanimously to withdraw the organization’s membership from the Alaska Federation of Natives. For many in Alaska, this step may have come quickly and as a surprise, coming just months after AFN’s annual convention which was held in Fairbanks. But in reality, the tensions between AFN and ASRC had been building for quite some time – for years, in fact – and we could no longer simply disregard them. At its inception in 1966, AFN was designed as a consensus organization. At that time, when divisive issues polarized the convention and its members, the issues were historically set aside and time was allowed for more discussion. In more recent times, convention-goers walked away from this practice, proposing and even passing divisive resolutions and endorsements despite the negative effects on some convention delegates. These examples of committee decisions, resolutions and political endorsements all divisively cut against the grain of ASRC’s mission to responsibly provide benefits to our shareholders while enhancing our Iñupiaq culture and traditions. ASRC recently re-affirmed its mandate that it benefits its shareholders best and most directly by issuing dividends. To that end, ASRC has embarked on a remarkable trajectory of growth in recent years: investing hundreds of millions of dollars in its existing companies, achieving significant diversification by acquisition, and extending its geographic footprint to new areas within Alaska and beyond. Endless and non-productive divisiveness such as are witnessed at the AFN Convention not only are outside of the original intent of AFN, they are also distracting from the mission of ASRC. Debate is good, but unproductive divisiveness was preventing us from preparing the next generation of ASRC leaders to overcome challenges while standing on their own two feet. Our founders have worked too long and too hard for the current generation to lose ground. Rights to resources, both renewable and non-renewable, are important. Another example can be found in our experience with whaling. For 40 years, our people in the Arctic have been forced to endure unfunded mandates and unreasonable control from the International Whaling Commission. Today, the Trump administration and our Congressional delegation are listening to us, helping us in the fight to not only restore but also strengthen our whaling rights both at home and abroad. These efforts have helped those across our region, and state, immensely both in the short as well as the long term. Threats to our resources threaten everybody, especially Alaska Natives. With limited value, and even some long-lasting harm to ASRC experienced at the latest convention, we opted to affirm that which we have long contemplated, deciding our time and resources would be better spent somewhere else. We’ve been very busy at home successfully developing a nonprofit regional organization called Voice of the Arctic Iñupiat, or VOICE, where all in-region views are welcomed. Through this venue we can better focus on in-region issues and solutions. VOICE, comprised of Native Village councils, city organizations, regional profit and nonprofit organizations, village corporations and others such as the North Slope Borough, Iḷisaġvik College, Arctic Slope Native Association and the North Slope Borough School District provide a critically important platform for the discussion of topics important to our region. Though we have withdrawn our membership, we will continue to work with AFN on issues that matter to ASRC and Alaska Natives everywhere. As ASRC shares its challenges with other Alaska Native corporations, I’m hopeful that someday we will once again be aligned and have a real discussion about moving forward together as one Alaska Native community. Getting back to the AFN rules of laying aside issues which we cannot agree on and steadfastly working on issues we can agree on would be a good start. Rex A. Rock Sr. is the president and chief executive officer of Arctic Slope Regional Corporation and oversees all aspects of ASRC’s business operations. Rock served in many capacities for his hometown of Point Hope, including as whaling captain and head coach for the Tikigaq High School boys’ varsity basketball team, a position he held for more than 20 years. Crawford Patkotak (Ahkivgak) currently serves as the chairman of the board for Arctic Slope Regional Corporation as well as the executive vice president of stakeholder engagement. He has been the whaling captain for the Patkotak Crew since 2008 and currently serves as vice chairman of the Alaska Eskimo Whaling Commission.

COMMENTARY: Alaska Wilderness League disregards Alaskans

When it comes to Arctic policy and developing Alaska’s offshore resources, the Alaska Native perspective has been overwhelmingly ignored in favor of outside voices that aim to utilize our resources — and enshrine our land and wildlife — to propagate an image of the Arctic that furthers their own agendas. These outside voices disregard the needs and priorities of the local people, the true stakeholders, who will ultimately live with the economic, social and environmental implications of decisions made regarding offshore exploration and development. This fact was glaringly obvious while watching a forum on Arctic offshore investment recently, hosted by Roll Call, to discuss the Department of Interior’s proposed five-year Outer Continental Shelf oil and gas leasing plan that currently calls for lease sales in the Chukchi and Beaufort Seas. During the forum, U.S. Sen. Lisa Murkowski provided insight into the importance of future offshore development to our economy. She shed light on the reality that the North Slope region relies virtually exclusively on the oil and gas industry for basic amenities, jobs and to provide for our families. She also reminded us that the state of Alaska, as a whole, is equally dependent upon oil and gas industry revenues. Other forum participants like Leah Donahey, senior campaign director for the Alaska Wilderness League, completely disregarded the needs of the local people and remained shockingly out of touch with the economic realities in our region and our state. Donahey’s testimony in opposition to the OCS leases leveraged emotive arguments and incorrect facts regarding Arctic offshore activities that undermined the intelligence of Alaskans, my fellow Native Iñupiat and our well-respected Alaska delegation. She offered no science, no facts, no research — and most importantly — no alternative to how to feasibly replace the opportunities OCS development would bring us. When questioned about her recommendations on how to replace the resource development opportunities her organization so vehemently opposes, she stated: “I’m not suggesting today that it can be replaced, I’m just suggesting that investing in renewable energy jobs locally, over time, hopefully would take over what types of jobs are available for oil and gas.”  “Over time” and “hopefully” are not good enough for me and my family, as I’m sure it’s not for yours. We are investing locally in renewables, but this takes time, and they will not power our boats, snowmachines or aircraft that we depend upon for subsistence and transportation. Renewables need to be part of a long-term energy solution, not as a replacement for existing resource jobs we rely on. Shutting down arctic development doesn’t solve the climate change challenge either; the rest of the world will continue to produce their hydrocarbons. What the argument for closing the Arctic does do, however, is bring in large donations to the AWL while harming the very communities they purport to save: my village and many like it. Ms. Donahey, of course, is not from Alaska. That fact doesn’t stop her, however, from attempting to limit our economic opportunities. It doesn’t stop her Washington, D.C., employer, either, from telling us how we should manage our resources to sustain our families and people.  As a whaling captain, a leader on the North Slope and someone with experience with offshore exploration, I will offer a dose of reality for outsiders. Ninety-nine percent of the North Slope Borough’s budget depends on oil and gas taxation, which is used to provide essential services to our communities. The industry is equally important to the state, providing roughly 90 percent of all unrestricted revenues.   These facts should not be disregarded in favor of feelings that renewable energy investments may someday, somehow offer jobs for our people. We cannot allow outsiders to disregard the reality of life on the North Slope and Alaska based on some narrow image they decide the Arctic should look like. Further, we cannot allow outside special interest groups to use our iconic wildlife and pristine environment to fund their own agendas. Unfortunately, while environmental anti-development groups cash their checks, the consequences of their actions will return the Iñupiat people to a standard of living that would be unfit for any 21st Century American. We have the right to economic prosperity too. Rex Allen Rock Sr. is the president of Arctic Iñupiat Offshore, LLC. He is also the president and CEO of Arctic Slope Regional Corp., the largest locally-owned and operated company in Alaska.  
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