SitNews - Stories in the News - Ketchikan, Alaska

AFN Declares a State of Emergency on Climate Change


October 23, 2019
Wednesday PM

(SitNews) - Alaskans rallied last week in front of the Carlson Center at Alaska Federation of Natives (AFN) convention to voice their urgent need for climate action and call for an immediate end to proposed projects that would threaten Indigenous hunting and fishing areas. The impacts of climate change are affecting Alaska Native communities right now -- villages must be moved, wildfires rage, melting permafrost changes the land, and people are losing their lives. The rally was held on October 17, 2019.

The coalition of Native organizations called on Alaskan Native leadership to move with urgency to address climate change and stop harmful projects. This year’s AFN theme, “Good Government: Alaskan Driven,” encourages a conversation about tribal sovereignty as a solution for our people’s well-being. Indigenous rights are the remedy for this crisis.

Young Alaskans Quannah Potts (17) and Nani’eezh Peter (15) succeeded in introducing a resolution during the Elders & Youth conference to declare a state of emergency on climate change. “We as Alaska Native youth are asking our leaders, as is traditional, to consider the future of their grandchildren & the generations to come.”

First Chief for the Traditional Chief Curyung Tribal Council, Thomas Tilden said, “It is up to us to ensure our children and our children’s children have a future. Pebble Mine has come to Bristol Bay, and all they see is minerals. They don’t see the water, the richness, the people. The water is holy. When water is contaminated, it destroys out home, our food, our people, our language, our way of life.”

Mary Matthias, Orutsararmiut Native Council’s Natural Resources Director, similarly raised alarm about the impacts the proposed Donlin Mine would have on the Yukon-Kuskokwim Delta: “How can we call our home ‘home,’ when the Donlin mine fails & kills salmon in the river? It’s our land, it’s our home -- not the corporations’. For them to stand by and do nothing, shame on them. They should bring jobs into the communities that benefit our home now and into the future.”

Speakers from Southeast Alaska urged for unity in divisive times. Said Dylan Lee: “The pillars upon which we built our ways of life and our culture are in jeopardy on all fronts.” Shawaan Jackson-Gamble of the Central Council of Tlingit and Haida Tribes said, “I think it is time as Indigenous People we unite, because it will be powerful when we all come together.”

Arctic Refuge protector, Gwich’in Steering Committee Executive Director Bernadette Dementieff, “Giving up is not an option”. 

Samantha Eyre, a relative of Cody Eyre’s - who was fatally shot by law enforcement in Fairbanks on Christmas Eve, 2017 - spoke to the crowd about the scale of injustice present within rural law enforcement in Alaska. Eyre connected the issues of violence with relationship to the earth saying, “the land is integral to our being.”

On October 19, 2019, the climate change resolution from First Alaskans Institute Youth & Elders conference made its way onto the floor for debate at the Alaska Federation of Natives (AFN) convention. The resolution highlighted the severe impacts that climate change is having on Indigenous ways of life and the spiritual and cultural well-being of Alaska Native communities. The resolution called for the creation of a climate action leadership task force within the Alaska Federation of Natives with the purpose of advancing Indigenous voices and advocating for strong climate policies that will ensure the survival of future generations. It also moved for AFN to declare a state of emergency due to climate change. The resolution passed following just over an hour of debate.

The resolution was among seven other resolutions passed at Elders & Youth and then considered at AFN. AFN resolutions represent the vote of the largest statewide Native organization in Alaska, including 191 federally recognized tribes, 171 village corporations, 12 regional corporations, and 12 regional nonprofit and tribal consortiums. Albert Kookesh, AFN Board Member, Sealaska Corporation, and former AFN co-chair said, “AFN resolutions have the full force of Alaska Native voice behind them.”

Youth delegates Nanieezh Peter (Neets’aii Gwich’in), Quannah Potts (Han Gwich’in), Zoe Okleasik (Inupiaq), and Alicyn Bahnke (Inupiaq) wrote the resolution. They attend high school in Fairbanks and Nome, and their personal experiences with climate change in their communities inspired them to take action. “We have lost due to unpredictable and unsafe ice conditions, have seen the die off and disease of seals, salmon, migratory birds, shellfish, whales, polar bears, and recognize that these are also our relatives” as a reason for the resolution. They call on their leaders to support the “survival of our future generations, ways of life, traditional lands, intact ecosystems, emotional, spiritual, and mental well-being due to Climate Change.”

Quannah Potts urged the delegates to pass the resolution, emphasizing the urgency of climate change and her deep concern for future generations: “I am an Indigenous youth. We are not here to fight with our own people. We shouldn’t have to worry about our future generations, about our children and grandchildren...This is important, this is our life, this is our future.”

When an AFN delegate moved to amend the resolution to include language regarding non-renewable resource development, Nanieezh Peter stated “we would like to strike the it would not be supportive of the resolution we originally offered.” Quannah and Nanieezh, and other AFN delegates expressed their desire to pass the resolution unamended.

Victor Joseph, Chief/Chairman of the Tanana Chiefs Conference, spoke passionately in favor of the resolution and ?called attention to the resolution’s focus to establish a leadership taskforce to advocate for strong climate policies. He said, “We should not be scared of that! We’re stewards of the land! An elder, an awardee who was recognized said ‘You take care of the land, it will take care of you’ I believe that powerful statement... let’s honor these young people who stood up...” which elicited a spontaneous standing ovation across the Carlson Center arena.

The two youth co-authors from Nome who couldn’t be present for the debate later expressed their appreciation for it’s passage. Alycin Bahnke said that the climate leadership task force will be an important step in the right direction: “Having an AFN leadership task force for us not only supports us but should help us get our voices out there and help us change things around the state to lessen climate change.” Zoe Okleasik said: “The main reason I'm concerned about climate change up here in the Norton Sound is that our sea ice is melting. Every year the ice stays for a shorter and shorter amount of time and the ice isn't getting as thick as it used to. Our hunters need the sea ice to be able to crab. In May of 2018 a lot of people here in Nome lost crab pots and they weren't able to feed their families. We need people to be concerned about climate change because we need to be able to use the resources our land provides for us and we can't if the temperatures in the sea continues to rise.”

Indigenous youth around Alaska have been at the forefront of a growing statewide, national and international climate justice movement. Just two weeks ago, 16 Alaskan youth plaintiffs in ?Sinnok v. Alaska? were heard by the Alaska Supreme Court in a packed courtroom, filled with young Alaskans and supporters. Esau Sinnok from Shishmaref, the lead plaintiff, spoke in favor of the AFN resolution today: ?“Young people are the leaders of today and the leaders of tomorrow. We do have the voice and the opportunity and the brainpower and strength to do the actual work....We can’t just say oh we’ll do this next week, we can’t think like that because my one and only home is being eaten by the sea. It’s very important to talk about climate change now. It’s urgent right now.”

Youth-led climate strikes have taken place across Alaska in recent months in coordination with an international youth climate movement that emphasizes the urgency of global action on climate change, and both Zoe and Nanieezh organized climate strikes in their communities. ?

Nanieezh Peter, one of the youth authors of the resolution, was encouraged to see it pass: “Thank you everyone who supported the resolution. The declaration of a state of emergency sends the clear message that this is urgent, that this is only a beginning step, and now we need to act and follow through in unity. We need you!”


Published & Edited by Mary Kauffman, SitNews


Source of News:

Defend the Sacred

Native Movement





Representations of fact and opinions in comments posted are solely those of the individual posters and do not represent the opinions of Sitnews.

Submit A Letter to SitNews

Contact the Editor

SitNews ©2019
Stories In The News
Ketchikan, Alaska

 Articles & photographs that appear in SitNews are considered protected by copyright and may not be reprinted without written permission from and payment of any required fees to the proper freelance writers and subscription services.

E-mail your news & photos to

Photographers choosing to submit photographs for publication to SitNews are in doing so granting their permission for publication and for archiving. SitNews does not sell photographs. All requests for purchasing a photograph will be emailed to the photographer.