Archive for August, 2009

Alaska Natives issues more complex than black and white answers

Wednesday, August 26th, 2009

juneau_empire_picAugust, 18, 2009, the editor of NativeCo.com, Morgan Howard sent a letter to the editor in response to a previous letter published.

This letter is in response to a “Letter to the editor” (August 11, 2009) by Gretchen Goldstein.

The author states, “Living in harmony with nature is not compatible with clear-cut logging” and “Unfortunately, the way they (Sealaska) make money often overrides their Native culture’s traditional values.”

Please do not insult Native people by simplifying our world into the black and white world of disaffected environmentalists. Why do anti-logging proponents think they feel the negative effects of logging more than Natives just because we’re the ones doing the logging? This assumption is a failure to understand the plight of Indigenous people.

No one understands the paradox of respecting the natural world and natural resource development better than us. We’ve been the stewards of our land for more than 10,000 years… we understand the concept of balancing our present day needs with unforeseen future obligations.

I am a shareholder of three southeast Native corporations – all three have practiced clear-cutting. I understand the realities my corporations faced and know that our leaders have never taken land stewardship lightly. As a videographer, I have personally seen the healthy second growth forest near the “small communities of Prince of Wales Island”. I have seen Sealaska’s silviculture practices first hand, from tree planting to stream studies. Sealaska is a leading expert in forestry management in temperate rainforests.

Clear-cutting has such strong negative connotations that few take the time to learn about the practice. I suggest reading the front-page article last week in the Seattle Times entitled, “New strategy to save forests: logging”.

In fact, I embrace our history of “clear-cutting”. Clear-cutting has saved us! Our trees have allowed us to be respected and relevant stakeholders in our own country. The foundations of southeast Native corporations are built on the revenue from clear-cutting.

The timber business has provided enormous positive contributions to the Native community. Sealaska’s timber revenue funded the creation of the “Sealaska Heritage Institute” (SHI). SHI is the primary driving force behind saving our endangered indigenous languages.

I understand some believe that no amount of human benefit justifies the commercial harvesting of trees. I disagree. Some contributions such as language and culture are so vital to our existence, that their loss would be devastating. Trees grow back, but once we lose our language and culture, they may be gone forever.

We lost the Eyak language last year. We only have a handful of Haida speakers left. Tlingit, a language that once dominated southeast Alaska may be gone in my lifetime. Time is running out.

The late Frederica DeLaguna said to me, “Without language a culture will die… It will be like what Roman culture is to us today”. If we can somehow save our languages, our culture stands a chance to survive.

Environmentalists talk about the importance of “biodiversity”, but what about “cultural diversity” and “language diversity”. Our Hemlock and Spruce may help us save our language and culture. Generations from now, our descendants will thank us for cutting our trees.

Ironically, we had to sacrifice our language to become citizens and vote… And now we’ve had to cut our trees to save our language.

These issues are complex and like many times in our history have made for tough decisions. It is our “Native Culture’s traditional values” that provides the ability to adapt and persevere through the rising tides of change.

Morgan Howard

Tlingit, Teikweidí Clan, Eagle moiety

Sealaska, Goldbelt and Yak-tat Kwaan shareholder