Posted by: Aandeiyeen | July 8, 2011

Mining activity in Taan ta Kwaan country

“‘Don’t forget that your ancestors are still there.'” a quote Willie Jackson, a member of the Taan ta Kwaan, remembers from his mother.  He stressed that “even if we are not living on Duke Island, we are still connected to it today.”

—memorable quote from a meeting I attended with the Ketchikan Indian Community Way of Life Committee and the Tongass Tribe president this past February about mining activity in our ancestral lands.

Duke Island (Tlingit name is Gix), located south of Ketchikan, is a culturally significant place to the Taan ta Kwaan whom are known as the Tongass Tribe- the very people this National Forest was named after. There are 55 known archaeological and historic sites within the Duke Island area; including villages, burials, shell middens, fish traps, fort sites, battle grounds, fish camps, an abandoned customs house, housesteads, old trapper cabins, and light house.  Needless to say- rich history that is valued well beyond any dollar amount!  This land has been listed as eligible for listing as a “traditional cultural property” in the National Register of Historic Places.

Since 2001, Quaterra Alaska Inc, a Canadian junior mining company,  has staked state and federal mineral claims on Duke Island to search for copper, nickel, and platinum.  Here again, we find ourselves at odds with the federal government agencies that are responsible for the management of our ancestral lands and are obligated to cater to the antiquated Mining Law of 1872.  A resolution to protect Duke Island passed in 2008 by the Alaska Native Brotherhood Grand Camp stated that “the development for these commercial activities tend to endanger the many cultural, heritage, spiritual and traditional uses of the area; and these activities are viewed as disrespectful to many of the Native communities’ ancestors.”

It’s important to note that obtaining a traditional cultural property status does not mean an area is protected from mining activity and other types of development.  It adds “minimize and mitigate damage” provisions to the development project but it is not enough to halt a project altogether.  We must therefore stand united with our Taan ta Kwaan relations to support their efforts to protect Duke Island and assert to the world that this is not a place for a mine.


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