Winona LaDuke at Alaska's first Just Transition Summit

Winona LaDuke was keynote speaker for Alaska's first Just Transition Summit. LaDuke is a long time Native American land rights activist, a previous candidate for vice president and an author. At the summit she talked about sustainable living, indigenous communities and the economy. Jan. 8, 2020 Kyrie Long/News-Miner

Moving ever into the future, the debate surrounding climate change and how to address it grows, and, in Fairbanks, it’s grown into a summit.

“Kohtr’elneyh, Remembering Forward: Alaska’s First Just Transition Summit” is convening in Fairbanks for the first time with a focus on starting conversations about climate change and the economy.

“It’s seeking to start a dialogue and potentially come up with some next steps on how we can effectively do a Just Transition for our state with indigenous voices leading that,” said Leah Moss, communications director for The Alaska Center, one of the organizations helping to hold the summit.

A just transition describes the process of transitioning to a low-carbon economy while securing the future and livelihoods of workers and their communities, according to the International Trade Union Confederation. The approach emphasizes dialogue among workers, unions, employers, government and communities.

The dialogue in Fairbanks is looking at a transition away from the “solely extractive economy,” according to Moss, which is predominately oil- and gas-based at present.

Winona LaDuke, Native American land rights activist and author, was the keynote speaker for the first day of the three-day summit. LaDuke is a former vice-presidential candidate, running in 1996 and in 2000 alongside presidential candidate Ralph Nader.

LaDuke called upon her activism regarding pipeline projects in the Lower 48 during her keynote address at the Wedgewood Resort, including pictures of protests over the Sandpiper Pipeline that was intended to run through North Dakota, Minnesota and Wisconsin and the Dakota Access Pipeline, where the Standing Rock Reservation protesters made national headlines.

Her talk, “Uplifting Indigenous Place-Based Knowledge Systems While Shaping Regenerative Economies,” touched on the history of colonization in the United States, pipeline activity in the past decade and how to begin changing the economy.

LaDuke, whose degree is in economics, talked about how, on her reservation, a study showed about $1 million of the reservation’s households’ food dollars were spent on reservation, while about $7 million was spent outside of it. She described this a leak in the economy.

“The point is, you’ve got to relocalize it and stop hemorrhaging it, because every bit of money that comes into my reservation pretty much gets poured off into a border town a day or two later,” she said.

She described how she and others at the company 8th Fire Solar have been building solar thermal heating panels, as an alternative source to fossil fuels.

LaDuke addressed dependency on fossil fuels multiple times throughout her speech. Shortly before concluding, she said she likened it to an addiction.

“How are we going to deal with our addiction?” she said. “We need to be the people that make that transformation by taking the fossil fuels out of our food, by taking it out of our material economy, all right?”

She said to quit moving it around as well, because the global economy is predicated on access to endless supplies of oil that we don’t have.

Carly Dennis, a member of the audience, asked LaDuke about the impact of capitalism during time after the talk allotted for questions. When we talk about climate change in the context of the economy, she said, sometimes there’s a lot of tension.

“On the one hand, we believe that it’s kind of impossible to continue our current political economy of capitalism and gain and at the same time solve the climate crisis,” Dennis said, “but on the other hand, so often we talk about the climate crisis using similar methods of ways to prop up our economy, just without oil.”

As one example, Dennis cited fisheries or other ways to continue with the current ideology of “plenty.”

“So I’d be curious to know if you think it’s possible to solve the climate crisis continuing in our current philosophy of plenty, of capitalism, or to what degree it’s dangerous or necessary to reject profit and embrace scarcity,” Dennis said.

LaDuke responded that the U.N. said that capitalism has to end.

“The point is everybody knows that that paradigm does not work.”

She added that her philosophy is “by any means necessary.” LaDuke also noted there were no oil companies in the Top 10 Standard & Poor's index of the U.S. stock exchange, which she said means something. Instead, tech firms are in the top, such as Google and Amazon.

LaDuke noted a bit of a dichotomy, saying that she knows Amazon is not good for local business, but is driving an economy and investing in electric vehicles. She said she doesn’t know all the answers, but if those groups keep pushing towards the next economy, that’s one factor.

“I don’t want to split by hairs,” she said. “I want to try and figure out how I’m going to live. That’s what I’m going to do. I like trying to figure out how my community is going to survive.”

Luke Titus closed the first day sharing some stories of his life, a song and prayer. The summit continues today and Friday.

Contact staff writer Kyrie Long at 459-7510. Follow her on Twitter at twitter.com/FDNMlocal

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