By Laine Chanteloup
June 25, 2007
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
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
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
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.
Received June 25, 2007 - Published
June 25, 2007
About: "New to Ketchikan,
an intern of the Tongass Conservation Society
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