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Opening ANWR Respects the Principle of Tribal Self-Determination

The majority of readers who responded to a recent Indian Country Today
online poll said that, "Corporations should be creating jobs in American
communities, including 'insourcing' to American Indian communities, before
'outsourcing' to cut costs."

I could not agree more.

As many of you know, there is enormous potential for economic development
throughout Indian country. This is especially true for the environmentally
responsible development of natural resources, such as oil, gas and timber,
which, if used efficiently, will lead to advanced economic financial
security for future generations.

An estimated 10 percent of the nation's untapped energy resources are
within Indian country. Developing these resources would not only help to
decrease our dependence on foreign sources, but would also create thousands
of new jobs, increasing the quality of life for Native Americans all over
the nation.

One of the most significant, yet untapped resources where "insourcing"
could occur is in the Aboriginal lands of the Kaktovik Inupiat people of
Alaska's North Slope - more famously known under its alias, the coastal
plain of the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge (ANWR).

While ANWR isn't Indian country's only energy resource, geologists believe
that ANWR is North America's largest untapped oil resource - they estimate
that there is more than twice as much recoverable oil there than in all of
Texas.

Much of this resource lies directly below 93,000 acres of land owned by the
Arctic Slope Regional Corporation (ASRC) and the Kaktovik Inupiat
Corporation (KIC). These two entities were organized under the Alaska
Native Claims Settlement Act to represent the interests of the Inupiat
people of the entire North Slope of Alaska and the Native people of the
Village of Kaktovik, respectively.

The economic benefits to Natives of opening ANWR are realized on many
levels. First, ASRC and KIC would collect leasing revenues and royalties
from production of the oil they own. As these corporations are wholly owned
by Alaska Natives from the region and the village, the value of their
corporation's portfolio, not to mention their individually owned shares,
would skyrocket. It would also provide jobs for youth in the region and
security for elders.

The Inupiat people overwhelmingly support the environmentally sensitive
development of the coastal plain. However, they cannot open their private
lands to oil development without Congressional approval.

Unfortunately, many of the same people that object to ANWR are stalling
passage of the comprehensive energy legislation that contains provisions to
strengthen tribal authority to manage these resources on other tribal
lands. As a result more and more jobs are being "outsourced" to the Middle
East and South America when they can and should be "insourced" to Indian
country wherever such economic development is welcomed.

As in Alaska, oil- and gas-related jobs in the rest of the United States
are among the best paying in America. Opening ANWR's coastal plain,
including the private lands owned by the Inupiat, would have a tremendous
economic impact affecting ten of thousands of Alaska Natives across the
state, not to mention thousands of opportunities for Native Americans
across the lower 48 states where oil field services are in regular demand.

The long history of chronic unemployment still plaguing Alaska's North
Slope could potentially be completely reversed. Several Alaska Native
Corporations, including ASRC, Doyon (representing Natives from the Interior
of Alaska) and NANA (Inupiat from northwest Alaska), are active in Alaska's
oil and gas industry, employing thousands of people - many of them Natives
- in some of the highest wage jobs in the country.

According to an economic analysis of opening ANWR by the McDowell Group,
Inc., peak annual employment in Alaska alone could reach 21,000 jobs, with
38,000 overall in direct and indirect jobs related to ANWR.

Slightly more than 20 percent of the work force at Alyeska, the operator of
the Trans-Alaska Pipeline System, is comprised of Alaska Natives. A similar
percentage of Natives in the work force in the ANWR oil fields is expected;
meaning thousands of Alaska Natives will have new employment opportunities.

Economic progress and job growth are therefore being hindered by a small
and vocal minority of Senators who have found a way to work around the
system, using procedural moves to block the passage of the energy bill.

To most of us, opening ANWR seems like the obvious answer. However, much of
the opposition relies heavily on perpetuating the myth that development
poses a threat to the lands and wildlife - the same lands and wildlife on
which the Inupiat people depend both for nutritional and cultural
sustenance. Such a position is embraced by members of Congress who have
turned down repeated invitations to visit the Inupiat people in their
villages and see how oil development can be done safely and responsibly.

When it comes to ANWR, isn't it right to place our trust in the Inupiat
people who have testified they would shut down the oil industry through
their local government regulations if development posed a danger to the
natural resources on which they depend? How is self-determination served by
denying Native people access to their own resources?

Opening ANWR is vital to keeping Alaska's oil and gas industry, and the
jobs it creates, healthy. However, without the approval of Congress it will
never happen. Despite strong support for such development among Alaskans
(including the Alaska Federation of Natives) politicians in Washington who
think they know more than the local Native people continue to use it as a
political device.

I have been to ANWR and visited Natives in other parts of Alaska's North
Slope several times, and can attest to the great love of the land ingrained
in every person I met. No one I talked to said they would support oil and
gas development if they thought it would harm their lands, wildlife or
people.

There are ways to escape the grip of poverty, but we must work together.
Responsible energy development of resources rightfully owned by individuals
and tribes throughout Indian country is an excellent place to start.