Lance Miller is the vice president of natural resources for NANA. He has traveled and worked in many locations across the globe.
Where did you grow up?
In Michigan and Idaho; however, I’ve been coming to Alaska since I was a baby.
What first brought you up here?
My father was a glaciologist. In the early 1940s, he led a small group of explorers to the Juneau Icefield, which extends from Juneau north through the border with B.C., Canada.
My mom got roped into helping my dad with the expedition. Mostly she worked on the logistics from Juneau. Often the whole family would be out on the glaciers.
Access to the icefield was by helicopter, ski plane or foot. We traversed on skis or by snow machine. We lived in tents or at snow camps fitted with plywood walls and aluminum siding. We cooked on Coleman stoves and used propane lanterns.
The glacier research program my dad helped establish is still going strong today. For two months every summer [except this one, due to COVID-19 travel restrictions], students from all over the world come to study earth sciences and learn wilderness survival and mountaineering skills.
Are you still outdoorsy?
Yes, I like to get outside – in all seasons – to backcountry ski, hunt, fish, mountain bike and climb. I’ve done expeditions in the Himalayas [Nepal]. In early May, we covered hundreds of miles of the Alaska Range by snow machine, ascending to about 7,000 feet.
What has travel taught you?
I’ve learned you can’t be rigid or fixed in your views. Instead, be open to opportunities and experiences. Try to see things from the perspective of others.
Who has inspired you?
My family opens up my outlook on life. My wife, Jana [Linfield], is a family physician at the Southcentral Foundation. Our older son is in his second year of law school; our younger son graduated from college last winter.
My parents, friends and colleagues have inspired me. I’d add all the people I’ve worked with who come from many different cultures. Everyone has something to offer and learn from.
You’ve received an Iñupiaq name, which is an honor.
Levi Cleveland gave me the name Kilvaġiaq. He and I became pretty good friends. I used to bring him caribou and smoked fish. [The late Levi Aŋaraaq Cleveland represented Shungnak on the NANA board and then served as an Elder advisor. A framed photo of Levi taken at the Arctic deposit near Red Dog Mine hangs in Lance’s office.]
Why did you study geology? And where did you study?
At first, I thought I might go into biology, because I’m interested in the natural sciences. Ultimately, I chose geology because all life, and the materials we use, come from the Earth. With geology, you learn to understand the Earth’s structure and chemistry. You study the evolution of the continents and oceans. This all factors into how minerals are formed.
I got my B.S. in geology from Stanford, then I earned an M.S. in economic geology from the University of Alaska Fairbanks and, finally, a Ph.D. in economic and structural geology from the University of Arizona.
Explain economic geology.
Economic geology is about understanding the evolution of mineral deposits that can ultimately be mined to benefit society. When you get down to how the planet was formed, you understand how society was built. It’s based on geology, because people need materials to build infrastructure and the goods we use. It all ties back to the land.
What is structural geology?
Structural geology is the study of the deformation of the earth, such as faults and earthquakes, and how mountains are formed. When we understand these processes, we know where to look for certain mineral deposits. In Alaska, this helps us plan for earthquake activity.
What is your role at NANA?
My role is to help guide NANA through the responsible development of natural resources to benefit NANA and its shareholders for generations to come. These resources include minerals, metal deposits and hydrocarbons, as well as sand and gravel.
Mining can be done in a responsible way, with respect for the land and for subsistence. That’s the bottom line.
What minerals are found on NANA land?
The NANA region holds a wealth of mineral exploration opportunities. Red Dog Mine produces zinc, lead, silver and some germanium. The Ambler Mining District, the location of the Upper Kobuk Mineral Projects (UKMP), contains deposits of copper, gold, lead, zinc, silver, and cobalt.
What do you like best about your job?
I like the mission of NANA [to improve the quality of life for our people]. Mineral development is an awesome example of delivering on that mission — and to contribute, as a geologist, is rewarding.
The revenues from natural resources have created a core economy for the NANA region. Ninety percent of the Northwest Arctic Borough’s budget comes from Red Dog Mine. The borough’s financial base came from the mine. Bonds, funded by the mine, helped build schools. Today, through the Village Improvement Fund, local communities decide which projects to prioritize.
The majority of shareholder jobs, at NANA or with our partners and affiliates, are related to resource development.
Where do you see NANA heading, as it pertains to natural resources?
The natural resources department plans to continue to help lay the economic foundation for the NANA region, and for future shareholders.
The current mine plan forecasts Red Dog to close in 2031. Opportunities to continue to utilize these resources include more discoveries near Red Dog, on state and NANA lands.
It will take hard work and all of us working together to make projects succeed so that all shareholders and stakeholders have mutual success for years to come.