In 2013, Alaska’s Department of Transportation proposed building a 225-mile industrial access road through the Brooks Range to facilitate the construction of an open-pit copper mine near the village of Ambler. This road will parallel five subsistence communities, cross 161 rivers and streams (two Wild and Scenic Rivers) and pass through Gates of the Arctic National Park and Preserve. The proposed “Ambler Mining District” also serves as a rich habitat and crucial corridor for Alaska’s largest caribou herd, the Western Arctic, which has dropped from 490,000 to 203,000 in 10 years. Additionally, villages are dependent on the salmon, whitefish and sheefish, which spawn and reside in the Koyukuk, Alatna and Kobuk rivers, and also are in decline. The Inupiat and Athabascan way of life hinges on the already strained ecological integrity of this remote landscape. Appropriate media efforts to bring awareness to the proposed mining district and road development are currently absent.
This summer, a team of experienced filmmakers and Alaskan explorers seek to capture what will be lost if the bridges are built and tundra is paved to Ambler. The five person crew have organized an expedition that will take them through the southern half of Alaska’s Brooks Range. Their hope is to packraft and hike approximately 300 miles on the Kobuk and Koyukuk Rivers along the proposed route corridor. By doing so, their goal is to address the threat that the proposed mine and access road may have on the subsistence lifestyles and landscape of the region.
Along the way, the team will visit the villages of Allakaket/Alatna, Bettles/Evansville, Shungnak, Kobuk, and Ambler. They will use their combined talents to produce photographs, written prose and a short film, Paving Tundra, to bring awareness to the construction of a road to Ambler. These collective resources will actively address the need to protect the land and subsistence lifestyle while questioning the benefits of connecting secluded Interior villages to the road system.
The team will provide partnering village councils with multipurpose media that captures cultural stories surrounding tradition, subsistence and modernization. They will also use historical and current expedition footage to connect the audience to a livelihood and wilderness that may never be the same after the tundra is paved to Ambler. This project is committed to documenting the authentic voice and accurate concerns of local communities, especially from the five villages they intend to visit. These cultural and personal perspectives are critically necessary in the decision-making process of the construction of the road to Ambler.