Editor's Note: The following is a condensed version of the presentation Marie Greene gave as one of three keynote addresses at the RDC Annual Meeting Luncheon in Anchorage June 19. Greene serves as President of NANA Regional Corporation. For the complete text, visit RDC's website at www.akrdc.org.
A recent Wall Street Journal article addressed the high cost of fuel, which this winter was $8.10 per gallon in Shungnak. On a barge somewhere to the south, natural gas drilling equipment is headed for Red Dog. Our partnership, NANA Major Drilling, will hopefully help find lower-cost and cleaner-burning fuel.
At Red Dog Mine, Teck Cominco has started a $30 million project and have mineral exploration underway. They are hoping to find another Red Dog and we hope they do.
There is so much activity going on at Red Dog this summer that the main camp has run out of space. We like this for several reasons as NANA Management Services will be running the camp and there are numerous job opportunities for our shareholders.
Other NANA companies are as busy as ever on the North Slope. Working out of Anchorage, NANA engineering companies and the hotel group are all operating at full speed.
This year, NANA will surpass $1 billion in revenues. We will have employed more than 7,000 people throughout Alaska and other states, and we have operations in Antarctica, Guam, Korea, Spain, and France.
NANA has been involved in resource development from the beginning. It was clear to our leaders that the place in Alaska to develop profitable business with jobs that can sustain families is in the resource industries.
But just like people all over the world who consume resources, it is one thing to buy gasoline at the corner gas station or to use a car that contains zinc in its components, and it is another thing to actually develop those resources in our own back yard.
When NANA made the decision to establish a partnership with a Canadian firm to develop Red Dog, we did it with considerable forethought. People were concerned about environmental issues and the caribou. They talked about the new people who would come and how cultural differences would change our people. They talked about jobs and they were concerned the only opportunities seemed to be far away.
Our leaders believe the best way to improve the lives of our shareholders is through jobs. That is why when we weighed the positives and negatives of developing the Red Dog Mine we were willing to accept the change to our lifestyle that has come with that decision. After ten years, our shareholders voted to pursue Red Dog.
Since opening in 1989, Red Dog has employed more than 1,100 shareholders. Our agreement with Teck Cominco is to develop a workforce that will one day be responsible for full management of the mine. To that end, we have an Employment and Training Committee made up of senior level staff from both Teck Cominco and NANA.
Together with the Northwest Arctic Borough School District, Alaska Technical Center, and the University of Alaska, we work to strengthen and develop the workforce. More than half of the workforce at Red Dog are NANA shareholders.
Environmental oversight and the protection of our subsistence harvest is another critical part of what makes our relationship with Teck Cominco work. There is a regional caribou-monitoring program and shipping is carefully scheduled to minimize effects on whaling and seal hunting seasons.
So, what have we been able to accomplish through Red Dog?
First, our goal for the mine to become 100% NANA shareholder operated is still a dream. We need many more people to receive the education and training required to operate and manage a facility of Red Dog’s scope. But we are making progress.
Red Dog is the main source of funds for the Northwest Arctic Borough. The borough receives $8.6 million in annual payments from the mine. Mine revenues are used to fund new schools, renovations, scholarships, and to provide services to NANA shareholders.
Red Dog is the biggest employer in the region with a shareholder payroll of $18.6 million. NANA businesses earn revenues from Red Dog by providing support services.
Something that perhaps is not fully understood or appreciated is the fact that 62% of all royalties received by NANA are distributed to all other Alaska Native corporations. So it is in everyone’s best interest to see Red Dog Mine’s success.
Five years ago the price of zinc was 35 cents a pound and the mine was not covering its expenses. Today, zinc is in the $ 1.70 per pound range and the value of royalties has increased considerably. But with fluctuating commodity prices this year’s bounty cannot be counted on for next year.
What else have we learned?
We have learned that outside environmental groups will take advantage of our people to further their own goals and to raise money for their own organizations. Our villages do not benefit from the actions of these organizations, and unfortunately we expect to be fending off such groups for the duration of our mine.
We have learned it is possible for a Native corporation to respect the land and our traditional culture while involving ourselves in resource development. I am not saying it is not a challenge. But if you ask me if it is worth it, I would have to say yes.
As a shareholder of NANA Regional Corporation, I remember the early discussions about whether we should develop the mine. I was against it because of my concern about whether it could be done in a way that protected the environment and our subsistence way of life.
Trade, commerce and the use of our natural resources to sustain our people and families have always been a part of Inupiaq culture. Today, our lives are balanced between our desire to maintain the traditional skills and values it takes to live off the land, while gaining the expertise required to do business on a global level.
Just as our land and culture have always sustained us, we are building a corporation that will also sustain us forever. We will not be acquired or dissolved.
We will work to ensure that our land can sustain our people now and in the future.