Public Servant, Community Historian
Karla Jensen has lived virtually her entire life beneath the skies of Pedro Bay at the eastern end of Lake Iliamna. Her village is small, just 49 residents at the moment. She and the others depend on the local wildlife resources that support their subsistence lifestyle.
Jensen currently works for the Pedro Bay Village Council as a services specialist, running youth and elders programs, a job she has held for the past two years.
In the past, she served as a village public safety officer for five years. That law enforcement experience led to a security job on the North Slope, and later to a job for the U.S. Government providing security at an Aleutian Islands missile defense site.
More than a hobby, Jensen devotes time to learning about and attempting to preserve her Dena’ina heritage. That includes efforts to bring people to the village familiar with the language and culture to teach both the young and the old.
"One of my passions is conserving the language," she said, adding that she knows of only one person in the village who can speak any of it, and only a handful who can interpret it. "My hope is that we will have at least four young people take an interest in it and learn it."
Jensen took up the anti-Pebble Mine cause several years ago when she learned how it threatened her subsistence lifestyle.
"Having been raised in Pedro Bay – it’s a small place – we rely on the plants, the meat, and the fish. When I found out the proposed road to the mine would go through the village and what that entailed, and after taking two tours, one by the Pebble people and one by Nunamta (Aulukestai), I knew it wasn’t going to go away in just a few years. I don’t feel the mine can safely be put in. It’s a real danger to the animals and to the lake. I feel like the whole subsistence way of life for me, my kids and their kids, is going to be compromised."
Jensen is raising two daughters, Chelsea, 17, and Autumn, 10.
Jensen believes more people in the Bristol Bay region need to educate themselves about the environmental threat posed by the Pebble project. Many, she said, are making assumptions that aren’t true. Some have been lured by the promise of jobs and money. She sees it as an empty promise.
"It is disheartening to me that people who believe like me – that this is our home and lifestyle – would give that up for financial gain," she said.
In June 2009, Jensen, 47, was elected to positions on the Pedro Bay Corporation Board and to the Pedro Bay Village Council.