SitNews - Stories in the News - Ketchikan, Alaska


Gravina Island issues
By Laine Chanteloup



June 25, 2007
Monday PM

I am happy to speak freely in this letter to give my point of view on Gravina Island issues. I think it could be useful to share my foreign and exterior opinion. Some people will read this letter and think it is one more piece of paper about a subject that everybody in town knows; some will think that it is interesting to have yet another point of view; still others will read but think that I am this is not my home and it is not my battle. I agree with these 3 ideas, and the last one is probably the most relevant: I am not from Ketchikan, I haven t lived here for a long time, and my point of view alone is a drop in the ocean.

But, I fight for my ideas, for my own definition of the fair and unfair. Ketchikan became part of my life due to my travel. I don't want to be a passive, consumption-driven tourist. I like to know the place, I visit, and in this way to be involved with the community: I would like to share what I think about Gravina even if it is not my battle, even if I am a stranger. I am probably a dreamer, but I believe in the power of words....

In order to understand my point of view I will first present myself. I am kind of a long-term tourist in Alaska. I am from France. I decided to come to Alaska for one year as an exchange student. There were two main reasons for this travel. First, I would like to discover this wild country, where huge space and humans come together, where nature and animals have still a meaning in people s minds, a place where the idea to live alone in the wilderness is not foolish but accepted. The second reason was my interest for native culture: How, even after the Russians, even during "the American colony"( S. Haycox), how native people continue to live with some subsistence way of life.

It is fascinating for a young French girl who at home was against the hunt, fish and tradition political party. It is fascinating because this travel, (as every travel) has changed my mind about my personal beliefs and about my definition of a good life. I was a child arguing with my mother to go to school by car and not by bicycle because I was lazy. I was a child who found the traditional Sunday hike with the grandparents boring. I was this kind of child because in some way, I didn't have the choice: even if France is a wonderful country, there is no big mountain without a ski resort, there is no large stretch without agriculture, there is no true wild forest not impacted by humans. I am so glad that there is still some expanse such as Alaska, such as the Artic National Wildlife Refuge, such as the Tongass Rainforest: where human impacts are not obvious.

It is an incredible cornucopia, that Alaskans have here.

Now, I arrive at the end of my travel. I visited all around Fairbanks, Denali, The Kenai Peninsula and I finish my journey in Ketchikan. What a great place to end my travel! What an interesting place, too! This tourist city, where jewelry stores are more emphasized than the wonderful environment of the area. Where the famous bridge to nowhere is now known everywhere. Where there is so much political struggle about the idea to develop or not an almost intact Gravina Island?

We arrive, finally, at the goal of this letter....

Throughout the year I did a serious reflection about the development notion, because in my life I was used to think about it as a notion to help "the developing country". For me it is a western notion generalized with decolonization. It is an effort to help the economically poor, giving them a chance to have enough means, food, and money. It means driving a stronger economy by adopting new technologies, increasing the networks of communication between urban and rural areas. I considered this principle ethically right and fair, even if it is a western concept imposed on the others. Since I came to Alaska, my appreciation of the notion has evolved.

Alaska is not a part of some developing country. I think that the main fight around the development notion in Alaska is the choice between development for a healthy economy and conservation of wilderness for a healthy ecosystem. For living a healthy economy is required of course, but for living well, without suicide, diseases, with philosophy and respect for the other beings, a healthy environment is necessary. And as Peter A Coates commented about the Trans Alaska Pipeline: Once a pipeline was laid across a wilderness, it wasn't wilderness anymore".

All Alaskan residents and especially the Ketchikan residents should think about that. What could we be losing with development? Because, after my year here I finally figure out that with development it is not a win-win battle. Development destroys something that will be never fixed in return.

At a global scale, this problem has already been defined: the idea has evolved; the notion developed itself, adding the idea of sustainability. Sustainable development means to develop in order to meet the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs". ( Brundtland Commission). To respect this engagement in Alaska you need to consider ethically what will gained and what will be lost with development. I mean, ethically speaking, that the cost of the choice is not only economic, but it is social, historic, and cultural.

Concretely for Gravina Island, some pro and anti feelings should be consider. Of course some property needs some access: the boat access requires (it is not a surprise) a boat: it means a cost for the inhabitants from Gravina. Moreover some property have no boat access, it means hiking to reach it. On the other hand, some inhabitants like Gravina in its current condition: there is pleasure to have easy access to wild areas due to its proximity from Ketchikan, and there is pleasure to access one s own property traditionally by foot or by boat.

But more important than the consideration of personal and selfish feelings, reflecting on the access issues, we need to consider what means the island for people of the area. For native and non native the island means subsistence. Historically, each parcel of the island has been used to catch fish, to hunt deer, to harvest black seaweed, to educate generation after generation. The development of the island will jeopardize all this meaning, all this history. People could always argue that only one highway can not destroy everything, but honestly, it will be the beginning of the Pandora Box : the use of motorize vehicles will increase not only on road but out of the road, the litter will expand, the number of hunter will probably increase as well...

All the ecosystems of the island will be disturbed. So what will be won compared to what will be lost? Do Ketchikan residents want to private the next generation to know Gravina as they have the chance to discover themselves? Do Ketchikan residents would like to take on the responsibility to change forever an island with a highway, for what? A couple of logging area? For a private access to a property? For the pleasure to drive its 4 wheel drives?

It is required to keep in mind that it is a long term issue and not only a personal convenience.

It is not my role or my right to give lessons on what is right and what is wrong to Ketchikan inhabitants. But it sounds to me that native history, subsistence harvest and respect for Gravina Island is closely linked with the idea to not develop the island. I can be wrong or right, it is not my choice, it is the battle of Ketchikan inhabitants. I hope they will realize the chance they have: a wild island so close of their city, the possibility to say we still practice subsistence way of life even if we are the 4 largest city of Alaska"... It is a difficult choice for Ketchikan inhabitants, and I hope they will carefully think about what kind of human marks they want for Gravina.

Laine Chanteloup
Ketchikan, AK

Received June 25, 2007 - Published June 25, 2007

About: "New to Ketchikan, an intern of the Tongass Conservation Society


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