Local View: We can preserve 'local' and also protect what is truly all of ours
In the United States, there is a growing battle between the ideals of "local" and "federal." This struggle is seen particularly in the use and preservation of our public lands. One does not have to look any further than Ely for a classic example of this conflict.
The United States has had the rare insight and tenacity to preserve land deemed to be of value for all people. These lands can take many forms: multi-use (for recreation and resource), national parks, historically or culturally significant spaces, and those rare areas sought to be preserved as wilderness (like the Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness.)
One of the most consistent themes that arise in this national discussion is that of "local" vs. "federal" influence over these places.
In my eyes, "local" generally has a good meaning. It conveys the idea of community, knowing your neighbors, and supporting businesses because you know the people and the great work they do. It means knowing where the best fishing and hunting spots are. It means having a say in what happens in your town through local elections. The notion of "local" helps shape our homes and the places where we live for the better.
But I have seen this ideal of "local" degrade when viewed through the bigger lens of land use and preservation. I believe that one of our greatest assets and successes as a country has been our ability to share land and public spaces and to preserve those rare wilderness areas.
This is where we need the wisdom to see the bigger picture.
This is where the concept of "federal" comes into play. It is about our country as a shared whole. "Federal" helps us protect these places for all people, not just for those who live near them. Though messy at times, federal oversight helps us create and protect these things that have value bigger than "local."
I have lived in Ely. I have traveled throughout the western United States. And I currently call Duluth home. There are great people who live and work in all of these communities. I know these small towns have helped define who I am as a man and as an American.
But I am disheartened by the behavior and themes coming from some of my favorite small communities and elected officials.
Instead of my ideal of the word "local," I have witnessed "locals" (those who believe they hold some undeniable rights simply because of their proximity to the land in question) brandishing Confederate flags (yes, in northern Minnesota) and using racist language. I have heard misogynistic rants. I have listened to undereducated theories about wildlife and land management (wolf ecology, in particular.) I have witnessed violence against those who have come (from places outside of "local") to enjoy and use these American public places.
And I hear over and over the dull, uncreative and unwise rhetoric used by corporate giants, city and state elected representatives, and people who reside in these places that resource extraction is the only way to survive. They seek to pit the "local" need for meaningful employment against a perceived threat from "federal" (or from Americans as a whole) forces to take away their livelihoods, the places where they live, and their identities.
We need to resist the urge to think small, provincially, or downright ugly. We need the wisdom to preserve landscapes that help define this amazing country we share. We need to think creatively and not live in the past when it comes to energy use and its creation. We need to be future-forward about meaningful work. And we need to be vigilant that an action done in the name of money and economic welfare is not outright theft or the destruction of our shared public lands.
We need to preserve the best of "local" but be willing to protect and share what is truly all of ours.
Jeremy Kershaw of Duluth is a former canoe outfitter and dog-sledding guide in Ely, a registered Nurse at Essentia Health, and the creator and director of "The Heck of the North" and the "Le Grand du Nord" gravel-cycling events in Two Harbors and Grand Marais, respectively.