Transition is Inevitable, Justice is Not
Kohtr’elneyh • Remembering Forward • Alaska’s Just Transition Summit, January 8 – 10, 2020 • Fairbanks Kohtr’elneyh (We Remember) is the Lower Tanana language of the Benhti’ Kenaga So what […]
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Kohtr’elneyh • Remembering Forward •
Alaska’s Just Transition Summit, January 8 – 10, 2020 • Fairbanks

Kohtr’elneyh (We Remember) is the Lower Tanana language of the Benhti’ Kenaga

So what is a Just Transition? Just Transition initiatives shift the economy from dirty energy to community-controlled energy: from funding new roads to expanding public transit, from incinerators and landfills to zero waste, from industrial food systems to food sovereignty, from homelessness to self-determined communities, and from rampant destructive development to ecosystem restoration. The core of Just Transition is deep democracy and decolonization, wherein workers and communities have control over the decisions that affect their daily lives and traditional lands.

Just Transition strategies are rooted in the work labor unions and environmental justice groups, working to define a transition away from extraction and polluting industries, while addressing a myriad of other social issues. The framework was also shaped and driven by low-income communities of color, “who saw the need to phase out the industries that were harming workers, community health and the planet; and at the same time provide just pathways for workers to transition to other jobs.” Just Transition encompasses values of environmental justice and the civil rights movement, emphasizing “bottom-up organizing, centering the voices of those most impacted, and shared community leadership.”

Defined by the Climate Justice Alliance, Just Transition is “a vision-led, unifying and place-based set of principles, processes, and practices that build economic and political power to shift from an extractive economy to a regenerative economy. This means approaching production and consumption cycles holistically and waste-free. The transition itself must be just and equitable; redressing past harms and creating new relationships of power for the future through reparations. If the process of transition is not just, the outcome will never be. Just Transition describes both where we are going and how we get there.

Centuries of profit and growth-driven industrial economies are pushing the planet past its ability to regenerate. We are nearing one of two endings to this story—either collapse or an intentional and radical reorganization.  A Just Transition provides “a framework for a fair shift to an economy that is ecologically sustainable, equitable and just for all Alaskans.”

This January Cook Inletkeeper Staff had the honor and privilege of participating and assisting in Alaska’s first-ever Just Transition Summit in Fairbanks, January 8-10, 2020. The event brought together over 200 people from across Alaska, both rural and urban, and across a variety of sectors and interests. The Summit’s four main goals sought to facilitate “Indigenous and non-Indigenous collaboration to build critical thinking around economic and social transition, construct a popular shared vision for the future, and create collective strategies that can move us forward.

Kohtr’elneyh • Remembering Forward
Alaska’s Just Transition Summit Goals:

  1. INSPIRE & CATALYZE ACTION: Create concrete goals to advance the new economy, sharing stories and encouraging organizational boldness and people power.
  2. CONNECT & ELEVATE PARTNERSHIPS: Identify where people need support so we can meaningfully incorporate each other’s goals into a shared vision for change.
  3. AMPLIFY IMMEDIATE NEEDS OF OUR COMMUNITIES: Uplift the critical day to day challenges that keep people from being able to participate in visionary planning.
  4. CREATE SHARED LANGUAGE ACROSS SECTORS: Share an Alaska version of the Just Transition framework that participants can bring home to their communities.

The Alaska Just Transition Summit was designed to encourage cross-sector and cross-cultural collaboration and communication.  To facilitate this connection, summit organizers offered a variety of sessions including special guest speakers, panels, and breakouts.  Intertwined with these were cultural celebrations, elder sharing, arts and music events, visual interpretation, and collective meals.

Summit speakers included a powerful Keynote Address by Winona LaDuke, an Anishinaabekwe (Ojibwe) member of the Mississippi Band Anishinaabeg who lives and works on the White Earth Reservations. A former candidate for US Vice President, she is the Executive Director of Honor the Earth, where she works on a national level to advocate, raise public support, and create funding for frontline native environmental groups. 

Other guests included Michael Leon Guerro, Director of the Labor Network for Sustainability and Peter Hille, President of an Appalachia based community economic development organization working to shape a Just Transition for Appalachia to a new post-coal economy that is more diverse, sustainable, equitable and resilient. Rounding out the guest speakers were Ernestine Saankaláxt Hayes, Kaagwaantaan clan of the Tlingit nation (Lingít), revered author and Alaska Writer Laureate 2016-2018, and Ruth Miller, Dena’ina Athabaskan and Ashkenazi and a recent graduate from Brown University who does International Indigenized climate justice work with the United Nations Association and SustainUS.

The session “Community Just Transition Strategies from Across Alaska” brought together visionaries and leaders from around the state to share projects and solutions on:

  • Ecological Restoration
  • Food Justice
  • Health & Wellness, including Indigenous Birth Network
  • Arts
  • Clean Community Controlled Energy

As a follow-up, “Sector Caucusing” enabled a deeper dive to look at key challenges facing various sectors.  Participants discussed current projects, conversations, and initiatives while exploring ways to work together.  Each group walked away with established commitments to moving this work forward. Sectors included:

  • Youth
  • Union
  • Tribal Leaders
  • Artists
  • Food & Health Justice
  • Energy and Infrastructure
  • Community Organizers
  • Advocates & Policy Makers
  • Educators & Language Warriors

Each of these sessions and breakouts, celebrations and meals, along with individual conversations helped lay the foundation of realizing a Just Transition in Alaska. 

Keep an eye out in the coming weeks for personal reflections from our staff who’ll be sharing lessons learned, connections made, and how they are incorporating the tenants of Just Transition into their Cook Inletkeeper work.

“Transition is Inevitable, Justice is Not”