FAIRBANKS, Alaska (KTUU) — The Alaska Federation of Natives has declared a state of emergency on climate change.
On Saturday, delegates considered dozens of resolutions, including one that would see AFN form a climate change task force.
The resolution was drafted at the earlier Elders and Youth Conference and was presented to AFN by two high school students.
Debate on whether to adopt the resolution became a proxy fight for how to combat climate change and whether there could be a risk that outside interests would try to prevent development of Alaska Native lands.
15-year-old Nanieezh Peter of Arctic Village emotionally presented the resolution to hundreds of delegates. She urged AFN to declare a state of emergency on climate change, saying its threats have to be tackled now.
“We shouldn’t have to tell those in charge that we want to survive,” she said.
One-by-one delegates stood to support the resolution or offer caution. All praised the two young women who drafted the resolution.
Crawford Paktokak, chairman of the Arctic Slope Regional Corporation board of directors, argued forcefully that environmentalists were using climate regulations to tell Alaska Natives how to hunt and to halt resource development.
Paktokak unsuccessfully offered an amendment that would have specifically mentioned the importance of development.
The sometimes-heated but respectful debate saw 17-year-old Quannah Chasing Horse, a member of the Gwich’in Youth Council, tearfully urge action to curb climate change.
“We are here to fight with you, not to fight you,” she said.
Victor Joseph, President of the Tanana Chiefs Conference, joined a chorus of people urging support for the resolution.
In a speech met with rapturous applause, Joseph said the young women had spoken eloquently and that AFN should support the proposed action.
After an hour of debate, the resolution was adopted by AFN. Chasing Horse and Peter shared a hug as the crowd clapped.
Greg Razo, the Vice President of Government Relations for Cook Inlet Regional, Inc., was the master of ceremonies during debates. After the resolution was adopted, he praised Chasing Horse and Peter and urged them to both go to law school.
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