NATIVE CURRENTS Complexity and voices of Arctic drilling

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I often wonder about the vagaries of politics.

Let me take, for example, representation and the issue of the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge. In general, environmental issues have a long history of different factions taking on positions early in the proceedings. The Arctic refuge is no different.

There is no doubt that the life of the Inupiat people of Kaktovik, Alaska, would be severely affected by oil development on the coastal plain. One may examine the community of Nuiqsut, Alaska. This is a community that is Love Canal in the making. Ask for and examine health records, mercury levels in fish and waterfowl, and other persistent organic pollutants that are present in the vicinity of this community, and the effects this development has had on the human and wildlife populations, including the caribou. All of this came about since the development of the Alpine Oil Field, right across the Colville River from Nuiqsut. The oil companies deny any environmental changes because there were no studies done before the development began to compare with present data. It is a lame excuse that overlooks the real human suffering in this community and the gross cultural strangulation of this people.

Oil development is not just a little oil drill here; it is a huge industrial complex which includes roads, miles of pipelines, an airport, docks, pump stations and tons of burnoff every year. Furthermore, all of this must be maintained in the extreme weather conditions of the Arctic. Some pipeline corrosion did occur. Oil did spill, and oversights of some sort were either ignored or not maintained to meet the conditions.

The fight for the Arctic Refuge grinds on … will it be preserved for all time or is it just a matter of time before it gets developed? While most of the world is starving, we are wondering about whether to destroy another ecosystem or not. America. America. America.

Don’t let anyone fool you about the Arctic Refuge: it is a wild place. Anyone who has been out on the tundra will tell you, it is hard to make a living out there. The Inupiat people who have lived off that land for thousands of years and the greenhorn oil riggers all know that the tundra is a harsh place to make a living, and it is wild.

The political organizations which represent the oil industry and the environmental networks are a diverse group. In general, Alaska Native corporations are in support of the oil industries. The state of Alaska has funded Arctic Power, an organization set up to lobby Congress. The Arctic Slope Regional Corporation has the most to gain financially on the refuge, and at the moment appears to have its arm twisted behind its back about development around Teshekpuk Lake.

Those who further the agenda of permanent protection are spearheaded by the Alaska Wilderness League.

This leads us to the political entities who claim to represent the Native communities. Washington has a record of demanding one voice of representation for each group, whether national or international. Washington also has a record of upholding that representation, however dubious. Obviously, Arctic Power and ASRC are not going to represent the residents of Nuiqsut and Kaktovik. They do NOT want development in their back yards and they have legitimate concerns. By the same token, GSC does not represent, nor is it accountable to, the Venetie Reservation or any Gwich’in tribal government in Alaska or Canada. It has become a tremulous voice proclaiming to have a mandate from the very ones it is no longer able or willing to communicate with.

<i>Adeline Peter Raboff is a Neets’aii Gwich’in writer who lives and works in Fairbanks, Alaska.