The Ambler Road would endanger our subsistence way of life

The Ambler Road would endanger our subsistence way of life


By Roswell Schaeffer Sr.

Updated: 8 minutes ago Published: 8 minutes ago

My name is Roswell Schaeffer Sr. I was born and raised here in Kotzebue. I have been a lifelong hunter, subsistence and commercial fisherman, and former Northwest Arctic Borough mayor.

When I consider the impact that the Ambler Road would have on our Iñupiaq way of life, not only in the Upper Kobuk area, but also the Indian country and here in Kotzebue, I see it as very harmful. We have to make the decision to protect our way of life, first and foremost. There is no other issue that is more important than how we live. I have fought so hard for so long, as my brother Pete Schaeffer has done, trying to figure out how we’re going to get by as a people.

There are other user groups hunting in our region, taking what they want. They’re flying up to the North Slope now to go and meet the caribou before they migrate through our region as they are supposed to. These drop-off hunters, brought in by outfitters from Fairbanks, Bettles, Anchorage and from Kotzebue, severely affect the healthy migration of our caribou. And eventually, this situation would affect us so much that you would start to see our villages starve in the future.

We have to be strong and protect our food security. If we don’t do that, we’re shot. And we need leadership to make sure our region is protected.

Subsistence is vital to our local folks in Ambler, Shungnak, Kobuk, Allakaket and Huslia, including Kotzebue Sound. When I think about the Ambler Road, I think about the future on that road. When the industrial road was built to Deadhorse, the state told us that there would be no public access. Within 10 years, that changed. If the state of Alaska puts money into the Ambler Road, sportsmen’s associations in Anchorage, Fairbanks and the Kenai Peninsula would file their lawsuits and I guarantee within just a few years, that road would be open to the public.

What would we see in and around the Kobuk River? You would see hundreds, maybe thousands of RVs. If you think it’s bad now with the drop-off hunters, just wait until you see what that road would bring in.

The other thing that worries me is that our people are not considering what this road would do to our young folks. We have long winters. And young people get on their snowmachines to travel. When we have a long-distance road like that, what do you think our young people are going to do? They would get up and go. And what do you think is going to happen? We’re going to have a lot of death, and a lot of misery for our people. We have to keep all of these things in mind. We have to make sure we voice our concerns. If we don’t, we can expect disaster in the future.

I was not in support of the Red Dog Mine when I first saw it. But when I worked as the NANA president, I started traveling up to the Red Dog Mine. I saw young people with jobs and a future. I was really impressed. But, we didn’t have strong leadership to make our demands heard when they had change in ownership.

We have to be very vigilant about projects such as the Ambler Road. If not, it could be a huge disaster for our people. The Ambler Road wouldn’t be a Red Dog Mine. There are too many lands that are not ours. And the short time that these mines could be open all over the place would make more access roads for more mines and then we would have lost all control.

I’m at the age now where my hunting and fishing is starting to slow down. But we have a lot of young folks here that continue to practice subsistence. I tell these young folks that we need good leadership to be vigilant in protecting our way of life. It has to be done for our people, for the state of Alaska, and the rest of the world. Hear our voices: We are against the Ambler Road.

Roswell Schaeffer Sr. is a lifelong hunter, subsistence and commercial fisherman, and former Northwest Arctic Borough mayor.

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