Dear Secretary Blinken,
We would like to thank you, your team and the participating representatives from the Department of Interior and the Office of Science and Technology for your time and efforts to produce the updated National Strategy for the Arctic Region.
The Arctic is the homeland of the Iñupiat people of the NANA region and we deeply appreciate the attention and consideration the administration is paying to the Arctic. We firmly believe co-management, engagement, and consultation are critical to the success of our region, and to the Arctic as a whole, and we were grateful to have the opportunity to provide our thoughts and feedback on the Strategy during its development.
Safeguarding and managing this area is of paramount importance to us, and we hope to continue working with the administration to achieve our respective goals for the Arctic together – delivering on both national goals and producing tangible solutions for our communities.
While often oversimplified to buckets of infrastructure and climate change, the needs and interests of Indigenous peoples are highly complex and wide-ranging and require nuanced approaches and strong partnerships.
We can build upon the progress already made thus far in this region and would like to offer additional details and recommendations to this great foundation.
Critical Minerals & Sustainable Economic Development
As the U.S. looks to diversify its energy sources, reduce emissions, and make meaningful investments in clean energy, we must ensure it has the necessary minerals and metals to advance necessary technologies. Without these, technological advancements and the increased production of electric vehicles, wind turbines, and batteries needed to meet our emissions reductions goals will be impossible.
The U.S. Arctic, particularly in the NANA region, is rich in critical minerals that can help our nation meet both our energy and climate goals. Allowing responsible mineral development to continue and expand in the Arctic aligns with Pillar III (“Sustainable Economic Development”) of the administration’s Strategy. By promoting sustainable mineral development projects in the U.S. Arctic, we can provide important economic opportunities for Alaska Native communities, while also meeting the critical mineral needs of our nation.
The Red Dog mine in the NANA region has witnessed great success over the last few decades, but the mine’s planned closure will occur in less than ten years. It is critically important that we plan for future projects now. Without additional projects lined up beyond Red Dog’s end of life, the success of our people and our nation’s critical mineral security will be put at risk.
We urge the administration to advance the permitting process for the Ambler Access Project in a timely manner. If approved, the project will enable the production of copper, zinc, cobalt and other critical minerals, provide meaningful employment opportunities to Alaska Native people living in the region, and will reduce the extremely high cost of living in the villages in the project area.
Through Red Dog, we’ve shown that we can responsibly develop minerals while protecting our ancestral lands and the environment and mitigating the impacts of climate change. We need federal policies and permitting decisions that allow responsible development to continue in the Arctic region, in close consultation with the Alaska Native people who own the lands where these critical minerals lie.
The administration is well aware of the Arctic’s implications on national security, and we have been honored to partner with various agencies for a number of initiatives and exercises to enhance our national security position in the region such as Arctic Chinook in 2016 and high-level briefings for incoming U.S. Coast Guard Command leadership in 2022 in Kotzebue. Alaska Native corporations and organizations look forward to continuing these partnerships to bolster our nation’s defense and national security capabilities.
Rules Based International Order
While not often discussed beyond our region, the continuance of a rules-based order in the Arctic is critical for the wellbeing of our communities as well as national security. A breakdown in the rules-based order could increase conflict or accidents that will have direct impacts on the marine mammal, fishery and bird species on which communities rely as well as sustainable economic development in the Arctic. Current challenges to this order are impacting international cooperation and impacts our familial connections across borders. We urge the administration to continue to uphold and protect the current rules-based international order in place in the Arctic.
Once again, NANA is extremely grateful for the opportunity to comment on the updated Arctic Strategy during its development phase. We urge you to continue to consult and engage with our organization and other Alaska Native entities in the Arctic as partners as you advance your goals and priorities for the region.
We have thousands of years of knowledge to share about our homelands and we deeply understand the unique challenges of the region. We want to put this knowledge to use to help our people and to the benefit of our entire nation. Working together, we can solve complex challenges, devise pragmatic solutions to combat the effects of climate change in our communities, and ensure America’s Indigenous communities in the Arctic are able to prosper for the next millennia.
President and CEO