King Cove Tribes, Community Leaders Write Impassioned Letter to President, Pleading for Life-Saving Road through Izembek Refuge
King Cove, AK – July 9, 2014 – King Cove tribal (Aleut) and local government leaders sent a heartfelt letter to President Obama yesterday, hoping to convince him to allow for a small gravel road connecting the remote community to the all-weather Cold Bay Airport, located just 25 miles away. King Cove has been battling for the road for decades in order to medevac seriously ill or injured patients during frequent periods of severe weather.
“We must have this road through a refuge, Mr. President, and provide for our families a life-saving way out of town when medical emergencies strike,” the letter states.
The letter is signed by the Agdaagux Tribe of King Cove, the King Cove (Native) Corporation, the Belkofski Tribal Council, The City of King Cove and the Aleutians East Borough.
“Everyone in this town of 960 wakes up praying that no one in their family will get hurt on a day when the fog will not lift or the wind refuses to lay down. Everyone in this town categorically rejects the notion that our lives are not equal to the lives of geese and swans, or the idea that a minimally used, one-lane gravel road will substantially disrupt their migratory lives. We’re hoping that you meant it when you spoke before the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe last month, and declared that we need not give up our culture to be part of the American Family. From where you stood in North Dakota, your voice carried all the way to our remote section of Alaskan coastline.”
“We’re optimistic that President Obama will finally hear our voices and sympathize with our plight,” said Della Trumble, the spokeswoman for the Agdaagux Tribe and the King Cove Corporation. “We don’t want to lose any more loved ones or compromise anyone’s health while they wait for help to arrive during a medical emergency. The road is a simple solution that would solve our access problem. Otherwise, we can only hope this matter will be settled in the courts.”
Last month, King Cove residents, Alaska tribes and two local governments sued U.S. Interior Secretary Sally Jewell and several U.S. government officials in federal court, as a last resort. The lawsuit was filed because of the Department of Interior’s denial of a road corridor and land exchange. In 2009, Congress and the President approved the road and a massive land swap (56,000 acres from the State and the King Cove Corporation) in exchange for a small single-lane gravel road corridor (206 acres) to the nearby all-weather Cold Bay Airport. Following an environmental impact statement, Secretary of Interior Sally Jewell rejected the road in December of last year.
“Her news hit us just before Christmas, and it was a blow to our communal gut,” the letter said. “The wind was knocked out of us, and we were a little slow getting up. But nothing less than the lives of people we love are at stake. So we are on our feet, proud and stubborn. Our hopes are on you.”
“The President has the power to correct the injustices that have been done to our people,” said King Cove Mayor Henry Mack. “When the Izembek area was designated as wilderness, there was no sovereign-to-sovereign consultation with the tribes. No one even thought about our right to public comment. That has to change. The lives of our people matter.”
In the letter, tribal and community leaders state that the President recently provided examples of sovereign partnership that are historically in short supply where the lands of indigenous people are concerned.
“This is an opportunity to push back against that history,” the letter continued. You can quiet years of Aleut protest in a single moment. We know there is a way for this road to happen with your help.”