The Anchorage public hearing on the Ambler Road, needed infrastructure to reach the state’s Ambler Mining District, is set for Wednesday, Dec. 13, in the Wilda Marston Theater on the ground floor of the Loussac Library. Many are expecting a large group of environmental activists to dominate the hearing.
The Bureau of Land Management has set the rules: Everyone who wants to testify has two minutes.
Except for elders.
Elders get to speak first and will not be time limited. After they run out the clock, other speakers will be selected “at random” until the meeting ends. The notice doesn’t say when the meeting will end but it starts at 5 pm and the library building closes at 8 pm.
It’s unclear what federal law allows some citizens to have priority and also unlimited time at the microphone during a public hearing, but the Biden Administration is signaling that it wants elders — code for “Native elders” — to dominate the public testimony.
But because of the wording, in fact, other elders could qualify. Anchorage Republican Women’s Club President Judy Eledge could declare herself an elder and tie up the microphone by reading graphic LGBTQ books that the Loussac Library allows in the kids section. So could Democrat activists of any age, so long as they “self identify” as an elder.
The term “elder” is ambiguous at best and discriminatory at least. AARP says anyone over 50 qualifies for membership as a senior citizen, another word for elder. In tribal culture, elder status does not mean old age, but recognition as an elder. It has, for some tribes, a spiritual or religious meaning, which adds another layer of lawsuit bait for the BLM. Some tribal elders are in their 30s.
This meeting appears to be, at the very least, a Civil Rights Act violation, and may also violate the Administrative Procedures Act. It may violate other laws and regulations, as well as the laws of common decency.
There have already been similar hearings on the new Ambler Road draft supplemental environmental impact statement in several Alaska Native communities, including Ambler, Shungnak, Kobuk, Allakaket, and a half dozen more.
Natives in Alaska already are granted government-to-government consultation status, and cooperating agency status. Now, the BLM is giving them a race-age card to play in Anchorage to take precedence at a public meeting over other citizens.
One woman with a newborn baby plans to attend on Wednesday and wondered if because she would be given the same courtesy as “elders” since her baby is so young and must be with her.