Obama visits Arctic community to discuss Native issues

02 Sep, 2015 9:11 pm

ANCHORAGE/JUNEAU ALASKA – President Barack Obama on Wednesday became the first sitting US president to visit a community north of the Arctic Circle, a trek the White House hopes will bring into focus how climate change is affecting Americans.

After meeting tribal leaders and fishermen in Dillingham, home to the world’s largest sockeye salmon fishery, Obama will fly into Kotzebue, an Arctic town of about 3,000 that is battling coastal erosion caused by rising seas.

The stops, at the end of a three-day tour of Alaska, are also aimed at cementing Obama’s legacy on improving ties with Native Americans. He has also traveled by foot and boat to see glaciers that are receding quickly due to climate change.

Obama will say in Kotzebue that his administration has found dozens of new ways to work better with Native Americans – program fixes with small price tags but rich potential, a White House official told reporters.

The president boasted this week that he will have visited more tribal communities than any previous sitting president by the time he leaves office. He has said he wanted to hear concerns from “everyday Alaskans” on this tour.

In Kotzebue, Williie Goodwin, 71, said he hoped Obama would see the impact climate change has had on the migration patterns of animals.

But he said he does not want the federal government to restrict mining and energy production because jobs in those sectors will keep the North going.

“That is going to be sustaining our communities,” he said.

“I can’t shut the door on them and say, ‘No offshore and no mining’.”

In Dillingham, some residents are fighting the proposed Pebble Mine project that they say could hurt their salmon fishery.

“We’re not opposed to mineral extraction, but salmon must always come first,” said Jason Metrokin, president of the Bristol Bay Native Corporation.

Obama made a huge symbolic gesture to Native Amercian communities and Alaskans at large at the start of his trip by renaming Mount McKinley, the highest mountain in North America, as Denali, its traditional Athabascan name.

The historic nature of the visit inspired Juneau café owner Marc Wheeler to cough up 45,000 airline miles to get to Dillingham for the chance to lay eyes on Obama.

“He travels in this bubble. Hopefully, he can escape it a little bit,” said Wheeler, whose café is serving ‘Barack’y Road’ ice cream in honor of the trip. –Reuters

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