|Chickaloon mining devastation in the early 1920s|
Professor James Anaya, the United Nations Special Rapporteur on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples, visited Chickaloon Village on Saturday April 28, 2012, to take testimony on the human rights concerns of Indigenous People throughout the U.S. and Alaska.
During his visit, Professor Anaya was briefed by Tribal Elders, leaders and community members on the proposed Wishbone Hill coal strip mine and the Mental Health Trust’s coal mine proposal. Professor Anaya expressed that he was moved by the many concerns shared by the Chickaloon Village Traditional Council, the governing body of Chickaloon Native Village, which addressed these issues and expressed particular concern that the state’s permitting process lacked meaningful consultation with local residents as required by international standards. Much of the construction associated with these projects will occur in sensitive cultural areas and will have dangerous health and safety consequences. Similarly, the Traditional Council expressed concern about the impacts of mining projects on their successful and award-winning salmon restoration program, which the Tribe has invested more than $1.2 million dollars and thousands of hours rehabilitating the Tribe’s traditional waters from the destruction caused by previous coal mining activities.
“The Rapporteur saw the devastation right across the road from our Tribal Ya Ne Dah Ah School,” said Kari Shaginoff, Project Manager for Chickaloon Village’s Ahtna Language Program. “Our Tribe has a right to teach our children and future generations our language, traditional values, ethics, and cultural traditions. Our children have their own right to culturally appropriate education under the UN Declaration. There is a real possibility that we may be forced to close our school – the danger to our children is real.”
Shawna Larson, a Tribal citizen and community resident explained the discrimination they face and the disparate treatment of Alaskan Native Tribes and Tribes in the lower 48: “[Alaska Native Claims Settlement Act] was designed to separate us from our land, our subsistence and ability to govern ourselves,” she explained. “Tribes in the lower 48 are able to maintain their rights to hunt, fish and gather on their own land. But ANCSA turned over our aboriginal title to the State and its Native Corporations. In Chickaloon our culture has been criminalized and we could be arrested for living as we have for thousands of years.”
“The State of Alaska has not met a coal mine it doesn’t like,” said Chief Gary Harrison, with regard to the Wishbone Hill coal mine. “Both the Federal and State governments approve mining permits without any real consultation or consideration of health and safety, or of the well being of people directly affected. The federal government says it has a policy of consultation with federally recognized Tribes, but we haven’t seen it. Sometimes they come and listen, however they always just do what they want anyway. There are those in power that wish we would go away, but the international community recognizes that Native Peoples have rights, to land, to culture, to healthy lives and a continued existence. We belong to this land and have since time immemorial. We’re not going away.”
Mr. Anaya, the present Special Rapporteur is a law professor at the University of Arizona in his 4th year of a 6-year term as the United Nations Rapporteur on the rights of Indigenous Peoples. Among his activities in this formal mission, he met with Native representatives at the Native Village of Port Graham, the Alaska Native Heritage Center in Anchorage and the Native Village of Curyung (Dillingham).
He will present his report to the UN Human Rights Council in September 2012.