The Roadless Rule debate for the Tongass National Forest has been going on since before social media websites even existed. But today, it’s not uncommon to scroll past conversations about the sweeping policy changes on Facebook or Instagram. In a push to get the word out before the Trump Administration makes a final decision, young, Indigenous leaders in Alaska and elsewhere are making that content extremely sharable.
Even if you’re not aware of the contentious, ongoing Roadless Rule debate, you’ve probably heard of Vogue, the high-end fashion magazine. Now, imagine combining the two: a Vogue cover with dense federal policy.
Marina Anderson is the Tribal Administrator at the Organized Village of Kasaan, and she’s on that reimagined cover of Vogue, which includes headlines about real ordeals tribal governments have faced. It’s posted to her Instagram page.
“Right Across the top in capital letters it says, ‘Vogue,’” she said. “And we have Vogue Tongass, and it’s called the Landback Issue.”
Anderson isn’t the first person to use a mockup of a Vogue cover to make a point. A black, Oslo-based student started the #VogueChallenge over the summer to promote more diversity on the magazine’s covers, which have been photographed mostly by white males. Anderson says she’s been meaning to write a thank you note for the inspiration.
She thought this approach could also be used to educate people about problems at home.
“So immediately it’s able to draw somebody in because it’s something we’re familiar with, which is Vogue,” Anderson said.
Depending on how closely you keep up with the news, you might be aware of the major management changes underway in the Tongass National Forest.
In 2018, the State of Alaska petitioned the United States Department of Agriculture for an exemption to the Roadless Rule. That would mean the rule that prohibits road building elsewhere on national forest land wouldn’t apply to the Tongass. Proponents say the exemption could open up access to logging and other activities.
But lots of people, from commercial fishermen to tribal governments, have voiced strong opposition. There are concerns about what this could mean for deer and salmon habit and climate change mitigation. Recently, nine tribal governments requested another federal process to establish a Traditional Homelands Conservation Rule. The idea is to protect important areas for Tlingit, Haida and Tsimshian peoples.
All of this is complicated, and that’s where the Vogue cover fits in.
“I’ve been hearing that because it was catchy and easy to follow along with the Vogue covers on social media, they were finally ready to learn about it,” Anderson said.
Several Indigenous leaders and social media influencers have joined the cause, sharing their own Vogue Tongass covers. The posts are linked to a website that helps people generate letters to their local elected officials and the Secretary of the USDA.
“A priority of the campaign was to be able to reach young people to keep the momentum up,” Anderson said. “A lot of us have a big large web, and we have the know-how to click fast on these little phones and make things happen.”
Richard Peterson, the President of the Tlingit and Haida Indian Tribes of Alaska, has been following the proposed changes to the Roadless Rule closely for a long time, but he only recently learned about a Tongass edition of Vogue.
“I had many people reach out and say, ‘hey, where’s your Vogue cover?’ And I was like what?”
Peterson now has his own Vogue Tongass cover, which he posted on Instagram. He says he was delighted to see this innovative way of getting the message across.
“I think a lot of people really don’t understand what the tribes’ concerns are right now,” Peterson said. “I think that’s how we can start the conversation.”
Marina Anderson thinks that’s a conversation young people should be prepared to have. The Roadless Rule has been an ongoing topic in Alaska for decades, and the debate doesn’t seem to be going away.
“If we’re going to have to fight this fight in another 10 years, we’re going to need these people ready,” she said.
So far, she says 500 people have submitted letters supporting tribal governments.