Human rights ignored in Arctic Refuge decision

Drilling in the Sacred Place Where Life Begins would be a violation of the
human rights of the people of the Gwich'in Nation. This fact is something
that is continually left out of the debate by the proponents of drilling in
the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge.

During the recent ANWR debate in Congress, senators in support of oil
development disregarded the fundamental basis of our concerns about the
risks of drilling and the importance we place on the area where drilling
would occur.

Many of the same disrespectful statements have been repeated over the years
no matter how many times the Gwich'in speak and write and try to set the
record straight. This year, however, a new claim was made that is far from
the truth. The most fictitious statement made is that only one tribe is
opposed to development in the Refuge. This is completely wrong.

First, there are numerous federal tribes in the U.S. and many First Nations
in Canada opposed to oil development in the Arctic Refuge's coastal plain.
The Gwich'in have the longstanding support of those opposed to oil and gas
development from the Tanana Chiefs Conference, which represents 37
federally-recognized tribes in the interior of Alaska, including the
Gwich'in. We also have support from the Alaska Inter-Tribal Council, which
advocates on behalf of 187 tribal governments.

There are various individual resolutions from Alaska Native tribes and
communities throughout the state. The senators failed to mention that a
petition from Kaktovik has the signatures of 57 people and there is a
resolution opposed to drilling in the Arctic Refuge and offshore in the
Arctic Ocean from the traditional whaling community of Point Hope.
Furthermore, outside of Alaska we have the support of numerous tribes.

This broad opposition to drilling comes from the cultural significance of
the lands as well as the ethic of the sanctity of birthplace - a basic
principle of many tribes. Furthermore, this is where the distinction has to
be made between Alaska Native corporations and tribes.

More than likely, Sen. Daniel Inouye was referring to the Alaska Federation
of Natives, which is dominated by the Alaska Native corporations. Even the
corporations were not 100 percent in favor of drilling in the Refuge - when
this issue was discussed in 1995, three Alaska Native corporations opposed
development. The Alaska Inter-Tribal Council (AITC) was formed because
tribes viewed the federation as not addressing the concerns of tribes. AITC
supports the Gwich'in position to protect the calving and nursery grounds.

Now, regarding the statement that only 2,000 acres will be opened to
drilling. First, the entire 1.5 million acre coastal plain, "1002 area,"
will be opened to oil leasing, development and production. This is the last
5 percent of the North Slope that is not open to exploration or
development. Recently, federal waters off shore of the Arctic Refuge were
leased to Shell Oil.

We are talking about the biological heart of the Arctic Refuge. This is
like our heart in comparison to the rest of our body - it is the most
important part. And please do not forget that this is a place that we as
Gwich'in consider The Sacred Place Where Life Begins - no less sacred to
Gwich'in than Mt. Fuji to Japanese or Na Wahi Pana where Aloha 'Aina would
be expected for Hawaiians.

Luci Beach, Gwichyaa Gwich'in and Vuntut Gwich'in, from Ft. Yukon, is
executive director of the Gwich'in Steering Committee.