Bering River Coal Field area protected from mining

Cap-and-trade deal inducted corporation into environmental initiative

Editor’s note: This article was written by the communications staff of Chugach Alaska Corp.

In 2016, Chugach sold its coal rights within the Bering River Coal Field (BRCF) to New Forests, a sustainable forestry and conservation investment manager. New Forests, in turn, retired the rights, which permanently protects the land from coal mining while providing financial benefit for shareholders. The terms of this agreement were unprecedented in Alaskan history and opened the door for our corporation to join the California Cap-and-Trade program, making Chugach one of the first Alaska Native Corporations to be inducted into this environmental initiative. We lobbied for inclusion in this program, and we are proud to be a part of this conservation effort.

The BRCF is situated on the eastern edge of the Copper River Delta – the largest contiguous wetlands on the Pacific Coast of North America and one of the world’s most productive wild salmon fisheries. The Copper River Delta ecosystem encompasses glaciers, rivers, rainforest and ocean, constituting critical habitat for a vast range of wildlife. At the forefront of this historic deal is Chugach’s commitment to responsible ownership of these lands.

On the surface, a carbon offset, such as the BRCF transaction, is a simple proposition: a reduction in emissions of greenhouse gases made in order to compensate for an offset in emissions made elsewhere. Companies purchase the carbon rights in our region to offset emissions created outside of Alaska. Chugach benefits through increased revenue; companies and the world at large benefit from lower global emissions. It is a very complex issue; however, regardless of the complexity, shareholders benefit from a financially stronger corporation and lands protected permanently.

“A large swath of Chugach lands will now be set aside into perpetuity, ensuring their use for the posterity of the Chugach People,” said Sheri Buretta, Chairman of Chugach’s Board of Directors. “Safeguarding this piece of the Alaskan ecosystem safeguards the global ecosystem. Everything is connected. This action creates the momentum for a better environment, for a better tomorrow.”

Chugach is a responsible steward of our lands, placing emphasis on sustainability and the environment balanced against economic development. “Employing shareholders in a meaningful way is one of our primary goals,” Buretta said. “And coupling shareholders opportunities with conservation is the best approach for our region.”

Shareholder and descendant employment will take place throughout the life of the BRCF retirement. In addition to the BRCF, Chugach is targeting resource opportunities that balance jobs for our people and further develops the rich abundance of our region.

Targeted for next year, our project at Port Gravina will begin to deliver granite to market. ANCSA conveyed lands to Alaska Natives for guardianship of traditional hunting and fishing areas and for the express purpose of ensuring Native rights to subsurface resources. This guaranteed subsistence lifestyles and an economic base for Alaska Native corporations. Both sides of the original intent of ANCSA were considered as we established and moved forward with the granite project.

Our lands are the foundation of our corporation and our culture, and utilization of the land for economic purposes is closely balanced with subsistence use, archeological research and historic preservation. All of these considerations will ensure that Port Gravina is responsibly developed for the duration of the project.

Our heritage is best kept alive in our individual people. Investing in their future creates ambassadors who carry the Chugach culture forward to the next generation. Founded more than 30 years ago, the Chugach Heritage Foundation (CHF) has funded more than $8.1 million in scholarships for our shareholders and descendants.

Through proceeds from the BRCF transaction and Port Gravina, Chugach is setting aside an additional $24 million for the CHF. This will add to existing funds and create a $30 million endowment for future scholarships. The size of this endowment will more than cover current educational funding and support an upward trend in CHF applicants.

“CHF has made a lasting difference in the lives of our shareholders and descendants,” Buretta said. “These contributions are creating the leaders of our corporation and leaders within the Alaska Native community, and our endowment will continue to ensure that every generation to come has access to a higher education.”

On behalf of our corporation, John F.C. Johnson, Chugach’s Vice President of Cultural Resources, recently placed a seal-gut coat on loan to the Ilanka Cultural Center. To tell the story of this coat is to tell the story of our people and our corporation. It’s a proud piece of our history that was originally crafted at the Village of Makarka Point, a site not originally included in ANCSA but later conveyed to Chugach. It’s a beautiful piece of technology that deeply connected our people to the land and, more importantly, made our people and the land one.

The coat left Alaska at a time when our people had lost a measure of independence, that turbulent moment in our history when the life we’d known, to a large degree, was swept away by a life that was thrust upon us—that intersection where our ancient traditions met the influence of outside cultures. This was a time when we lost our footing, and we stood on a new, uncertain shore.

ANCSA changed all of that and gave purpose and certainty to that shoreline. ANCSA returned our sovereignty and our ability to stand on our own. And over the last 45 years, Chugach has evolved into an entity that has restored the foundation and bedrock of our culture. There is still work to be done, but thanks to the hard work of our founders and those who have followed in their footsteps, Chugach is now, more than ever, able to deliver on its mission.

Chugach Alaska Corporation is very proud to be a part of the history that is Alaska, and we’re proud to be a part of what lies ahead. We are a forever company; 5,000 years was just the beginning.

The seal-gut coat was recovered from the Peabody Museum at Yale. Chugach’s Cultural Resource Department has actively worked to reclaim more than 8,000 historic and prehistoric artifacts through the Native American Graves Protection and Repatriation Act. The goal of this effort is to ensure Alaskan Native remains and artifacts are returned to Alaska and treated with dignity, honor and respect.

As mentioned, the seal-gut coat—also known as a kanagglluk in the Alutiiq language—is on long-term display at the Ilanka Cultural Center in Cordova. A kanagglluk represents a piece of Native artisanship that made our people’s deep spiritual connection to the sea possible, and this piece of our history has finally come home. Representatives from the center hope to use the coat as a focal point to revive this ancient and noble craft.

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Contact Corporate Communications Director Randi Jo Gause at communications@chugach.com with additional questions.