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Building Bridges, Not Fences:

An International Protected Area means more connections, not more regulations

March 10, 2014
Alaskan and Chukotkan youth embracing on the beach Alaskan and Chukotkan youth saying farwell on the beach in Anadyr' at the end of one the Beringia exchange programs (NPS photo).

The governments of the United States and Russia have been making steps toward the designation of an International Protected Area (IPA) spanning the Bering Strait and symbolically linking parks in Alaska and Chukotka, Russia. One theme influences and inspires all stages of the process: stronger connections throughout Beringia. The goal is to encourage collaboration, not create boundaries; to build "bridges," not "fences."

There has been some confusion regarding the planned actions by the United States government surrounding the proposed IPA. The National Park Service's (NPS) Shared Beringian Heritage Program has distributed materials in rural communities and has posted materials on the Program's website from the very start (see Press Room). The Program provides updated and thorough news and information on the IPA. The materials also factually address the views and concerns of those who oppose the signing of a Memorandum of Understanding between the US and Russia. These concerns are valid and understandable, and the Beringia Program will continue making every effort to accurately respond.

After more than 20 years of working closely with indigenous peoples and other groups in both Alaska and Chukotka, the Beringia Program believes that the proposed agreement between the United States and Russia has the potential to build and strengthen relationships, increase communication, encourage connections, facilitate science and research, and provide opportunities for young people to connect with their culture and engage with their communities. Native leaders from both Alaska and Chukotka have come out in support of these initiatives, and believe that their communities will only benefit from closer ties between Russia and the United States.

On the US side, John Waghiyi, a Siberian Yupik marine-mammal hunter from Savoonga who has served as head of the local tribal government and has close family ties to Chukotka, said: "We are tired of being put on the bottom of the Totem Pole. Through the actions of the Beringia Program and the intentions of the planned international agreement, we see our concerns being heard and respected, our connections with Chukotka being valued, and our culture and livelihood being protected. We miss our family in Chukotka every day, more and more."

Vladimir Etylin, a well-known native activist and political leader who grew up among a family of reindeer herders on the tundra in Chukotka and eventually served in the Russian Duma, said this about the IPA: "It is a good example of our joint work. Contacts among the regional governments, as well as cultural, scientific, medical, educational, and other humanitarian relations have become more active. For the people of Beringia, this territory is not a park, nor a reserve, but it is their natural environment."

This is the fundamental goal of the IPA: unite young people, old people, communities, organizations, institutions, teachers and students, researchers, and local governments in efforts to address both the opportunities and obstacles facing the Beringia Region as a whole.

There is a Siberian Yupik word that very aptly describes the main goals of an agreement between the US and Russia and the establishment of an IPA. "Atasiigukut" is a Siberian Yupik way of being that dates back many centuries and means: "Together we are One." This is how the Beringia Region is being conceptualized and considered in the proposed agreement; not as a geographical space confined by boundaries, ethnicity or politics, but the "natural environment" of a dynamic, vulnerable, resilient and adaptable group of people.

To summarize some important facts:

  • Increased international cooperation is the intent of the IPA spanning the Bering Strait and including federal lands on both sides, not increased governmental regulations or control. The purpose is to facilitate working together in mutually beneficial ways. It is not to restrict access, change boundaries, or create additional regulations in the US contribution to the IPA.
  • No agreement has been signed between the two governments. The proposed Memorandum of Understanding between the United States and Russia would be a non-binding agreement where existing laws (including the Alaska National Interest Lands Conservation Act or ANILCA) would remain in effect.
  • The inclusion of existing National Park Service units Bering Land Bridge National Preserve and Cape Krusenstern National Monument, which are both part of the ancient Bering Land Bridge, will not change the current status of these protected areas. No new lands would be designated or included.
  • From the consultation log posted here, one can see the substantial efforts made to consult with stakeholders in and out of the region. These efforts were carefully considered, and will continue with regularity whether or not a formal agreement is signed.

Please contact the Shared Beringian Heritage Program Manager with any further questions:

Janis Kozlowski
Program Manager

Last Updated: March 11, 2014