Alaska’s Changing Arctic
Energy Issues and Trends for the Alaska State Legislature and its Citizens
At the national level, Alaska has three members of Congress acting on the state’s behalf. They receive information and support from the Congressional Research Service. In March 2022, the Service released an updated report, Changes in the Arctic: Background and Issues for Congress. This nationally focused document outlined the biggest aspects of Arctic change likely to require federal government attention. However, the service is general and cannot provide detailed, real-time information with a sensitivity to the needs of Alaska’s diverse population and suited to use by the Alaska Legislature.
Alaska, the state that makes the United States an Arctic nation and enables U.S. membership in the Arctic Council, has the ability to create and maintain policies that are state and regionally specific. Doing so can expand Alaska’s Arctic role as well as address effects of environmental and developmental changes. Though there is not a routine suite of information for the Legislature in relation to Arctic issues, the Arctic Policy Act of 2015 directs the state to attend to its Arctic nature. This declaration of state Arctic policy was the result of several years of bipartisan efforts and community engagement of the Alaska Arctic Policy Commission. The AAPC was created by the Alaska Legislature in 2012, at the recommendation of the Alaska Northern Waters Task Force. Twenty six Commissioners, including 10 legislators and 16 experts from around Alaska, formed the effort.
The AAPC aimed to continue the work of the task force, creating actionable Arctic policy for Alaska and positively influencing federal Arctic policy. The AAPC completed its work in 2015 and published a final report and implementation plan for Alaska’s Arctic policy, framing its recommendations into four lines of strategic effort. Later that year the Alaska Legislature passed the Arctic Policy Act (44.99.105. Declaration of State Arctic Policy).
Why create this report and why the University of Alaska?
This “Alaska’s Changing Arctic: Energy Issues and Trends” inaugural report is designed specifically for state government and Alaska citizens. This report addresses the first of four priority lines of effort identified in Alaska’s Arctic Policy, “promoting economic and resource development,” through the topic of energy. While the report recognizes the policy-making power of local and tribal governments, it highlights key interactive trends in Alaska and the Arctic that are most likely to require legislative decision-making in the near future.
The authors are University of Alaska experts with local, national and international partnerships in both public and private sectors. They used scientific studies, historical and current policy analysis in combination with a close understanding of state, regional, federal and international governance to work collaboratively across the university. The shared result is a synthesis of the key trends that Alaska government needs to pay attention to as they seek success in the globalizing Arctic.
The University of Alaska is able to serve as an information resource to the state government. This report is one way to do that. It aims to:
- efficiently contextualize for the Alaska audience state concerns in relation to Arctic economic, social and environmental trends in terms decision-makers and their staffs are able to grasp quickly and evaluate in relation to their own political choices,
- serve as a timely resource for questions legislators, executive agencies or other government officials may have, and
- highlight the unique opportunities of the state of Alaska to serve as a model for energy policies and practices serving cold climate and rural areas in the United States and internationally.
These goals rest on the well-understood relationship between the university and state: the report seeks to inform, not advocate for any particular outcome or for the university itself. The report design facilitates state capacity to address the Arctic Policy Act, including concerns related to climate change and geopolitics without the pressure of advocacy or recommendations.
Indigenous peoples in Alaska
Alaska Native Peoples have thrived on the lands and waters of what is now the state of Alaska for 10,000 years or more, since before Russian and American exploitation and colonization. The map on this page shows the language groups by region of the Indigenous population. In 1942, when construction on the Alaska Highway began, there were 73,000 people in Alaska, about half of them Alaska Native. This percentage fell to 26% in 1950, and to 19% by the time of statehood in 1959. Today the population is approximately 20% of roughly 730,000 Alaska citizens. Looking to the future, the Alaska Department of Labor projects the Alaska Native population to increase by about 30,000 people by 2050. This would increase their proportion of Alaska’s total projected population to 23%.
Alaska Native Claims Settlement Act
The Alaska Statehood Act of 1959 did not comprehensively address Indigenous land claims, noting only that the “State must disclaim all right and title to lands and other property not granted or confirmed to the State including right or title which may be held by any Indians, Eskimos or Aleuts (natives) or is held by the United States in trust for said natives.”
In the 1960s the Alaska Federation of Natives was established to advocate for a land claims settlement. The Alaska Native Claims Settlement Act of 1971, known as ANCSA, extinguished aboriginal land title in Alaska. Its foundation was in Alaska Native corporate ownership. The state was divided into 12 regions creating private, for-profit Alaska Native regional corporations and over 200 private, for-profit Alaska Native village corporations. ANCSA also mandated that both regional and village corporations be owned by enrolled Alaska Native shareholders. Through ANCSA, the federal government transferred 44 million acres — land to be held in corporate ownership by Alaska Native shareholders — to Alaska Native regional and village corporations. The federal government also compensated the newly formed Alaska Native corporations a total of $962.5 million for land lost in the settlement agreement.
As a we build a more diverse, equitable and inclusive future, we acknowledge and honor the Alaska Native Peoples of the land on which we work and live.
University of Alaska Anchorage UAA recognizes and values the diversity of our unique location in Southcentral Alaska, the ancestral lands of the Dena’ina, Ahtna, Alutiiq/Sugpiaq, Chugachmiut and Eyak peoples.
Dena’ina land acknowledgment: Dena’inaq ełnenaq’ gheshtnu ch’q’u yeshdu. “I live and work on the land of the Dena’ina.” Translation: Helen Dick, Sondra Shaginoff-Stuart, Joel Isaak.
University of Alaska Fairbanks We acknowledge the Alaska Native nations upon whose ancestral lands our campuses reside. In Fairbanks, our Troth Yeddha’ Campus is located on the ancestral lands of the Dena people of the lower Tanana River.
University of Alaska Southeast Our campuses reside on the unceded territories of the Áakʼw Kwáan, Taantʼá Kwáan and Sheetkʼá Kwáan on Lingít Aaní, also known as Juneau, Ketchikan and Sitka, Alaska, adjacent to the ancestral home of the Xaadas and Ts’msyen peoples.