Land Dispute

Instead, when the man’s lease was up, the ROC told him they would not be renewing it, and further, that he had one year to dismantle the lodge and vacate it. Twenty years of work—gone.

Now, the man’s “lodge” exists as a series of tents in the national park a few miles from the inholding it once called home. The man moves the tents two miles every two weeks, as required by the NPS. Instead of a composting toilet and shower, guests must dig a hole in the bushes. There’s no running water. No generators. The guides are upset, worried about what will happen to the old site. Will it be developed? Will the next purveyor exploit the land or be a diligent steward of its resources?

No one can dispute that Alaska Natives made their home in Alaska first—and that they revered the land, inhabiting it with passion and respect. And yet, it wasn’t the first time in my travels to hear about these types of land conflicts. Isn’t Alaska big enough for everyone to enjoy it? And, who really gave any of us the authority to “own” what’s beneath our feet? We stake our claims, all of us, on that which was really never ours to begin with. The same battle plays out over and over again for the land, seas, moon and even Mars.

At the bear-viewing site, I stand on a bluff overlooking a bay, a few miles from the disputed lease. I watch a lean, timberwolf disappear from view, only to pop up just beneath me, walk toward me, and amble away. This much I know: I want the opportunity to see this wolf—for my ten-year old son—and his grandchildren too. We all want to feel that connection with something greater; we want the land for its beauty and our subsistence. We see the same thing Alaska Natives saw in the 1800s. We can all benefit from knowing more about Alaska Natives’ character, traditions, arts and resilience. Most of all: We might learn that we are more alike than different with regards to our love of the land and the wild places in Alaska.


Michelle Theall

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