Indian Country Today recently published an opinion piece submitted on April 28, 2021 by Siqiñiq Maupin, "Misrepresentation of Indigenous peoples of Alaska needs to stop." The misrepresentation of the North Slope and its leadership by Siqiñiq Maupin and Sovereign Iñupiat for a Living Arctic (SILA) needs to stop.

The Voice of the Arctic Iñupiat (The VOICE) is a non-profit coalition of elected community leaders representing the tribal, municipal, Native corporation, education and health organizations in our North Slope region. The people of the North Slope are empowered to choose the leadership they want to represent them within the various service delivery organizations that are members of The VOICE. The leadership composition of The VOICE has a defined and measurable constituency, unlike the foggy, ambiguous (mis)representation put forward by Sovereign Iñupiat for a Living Arctic. For Maupin to assert that The VOICE is “misrepresenting and tokenizing its constituents” is dangerously false.

Maupin does not hold a leadership position of public trust, has yet to put forward solutions or recommendations for service delivery in our villages, and continues to fail to correlate the need for services in our remote villages with the means to fund the delivery of those services. All are important factors when considering Maupin’s and Sovereign Iñupiat for a Living Arctic’s rhetoric.

The North Slope region of Alaska is the size of the state of Minnesota and only eight communities are established within that landmass. No roads connect our communities and as a result, it is extremely expensive to live within the North Slope where a gallon of fresh milk, when available, can cost over $10 per gallon.

Maupin and Sovereign Iñupiat for a Living Arctic are located in Fairbanks, the third-largest city in Alaska. It is on the road system and the modern conveniences of grocery stores, hospitals, pharmacies and fast-food restaurants litter the street corners. Conversely, the remote North Slope village of Atqasuk, population 248 according to the 2019 U.S. Census Bureau estimates, has no grocery store. Residents have to fly their groceries in or wait for the 80-mile ice road to be constructed in the wintertime to access the nearest grocery store. These are the people organizations like the North Slope Borough, Arctic Slope Regional Corporation and The VOICE represent.

In her attempts to discredit the North Slope Borough Maupin fails to inform the audience that the primary goal for the creation of the North Slope Borough in the 1970s was to ensure the Iñupiat people had a voice in the resource development process, to keep the oil and gas industry in check, and to protect our right to subsist. 

The North Slope Borough continues that engagement today, in addition to taxing the industry and using those tax dollars to provide the public services needed in the most remote region of the United States.

In her attempts to discredit Arctic Slope Regional Corporation (ASRC), Maupin fails to tell the true story. Representing the business interests of 13,000 Iñupiat owners, its incorporation was dictated by Congress in 1971. Maupin ignores the fact that it was solely the Arctic Slope leadership that resisted and opposed the passage of the Alaska Native Claims Settlement Act of 1971. Each time our leadership resisted, the land base grew for the rest of the Alaska Native regions. 

Listen to Iñupiat leader Joe Upicksoun’s own words as he addresses the Alaska Federation of Natives in 1971 here. Despite its opposition to this corporate framework, ASRC continues to grow its business to provide meaningful employment, educational, community and economic opportunities for its owners.

The organization Maupin purports to represent, Sovereign Iñupiat for a Living Arctic, is an organization with no authority to deliver public services, is not transparent in its membership or funding sources, is not registered with the State of Alaska, the Alaska Public Offices Commission, the Internal Revenue Service or the Federal Election Commission. The Sovereign Iñupiat for a Living Arctic “organization” is not exempt from the requirements to register with the appropriate governmental agencies, nor is it recognized as a true or dependent sovereign like federally recognized tribes.

It is convenient for Maupin to pontificate upon the world her one-sided special interest-funded philosophies, but she has yet to face the people who are responsible for ensuring a healthy and thriving region. Those who work tirelessly to ensure there is growth and opportunity for our Iñupiat people to get out from under the thumb of the federal government.

Her efforts to demean the decades of dedication, hard work and thoughtful vision of our region’s past and current leaders are reckless and ill-informed. Her attacks upon her own people from afar are akin to a Taos Pueblo descendant trying to dictate policy to pueblo leadership while residing on the Gila River reservation.

Although a harsh reality, her dark operation funding sources simply shopped around until they found an individual willing to be a mouthpiece for an industry who would rather see her own people controlled by ideology not borne by the people within the North Slope region.

There is real harm in attempting to misrepresent the reality of the leadership governance structure and partnership on the North Slope. There is value in practicing our Iñupiat values to focus on cooperation, conflict resolution, compassion and respect. That is the true meaning of atauchikun- even if there is disagreement.

It’s time for Maupin and Sovereign Iñupiat for a Living Arctic to stop the misrepresentation of the North Slope region, organizations, its leadership, and the services and benefits provided to our villages and residents.

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This essay does not necessarily reflect the view of Indian Country Today; voices in our opinion section represent a variety of reader points of view. If you would like to contribute an essay to Indian Country Today, email the opinion editor, Vincent Schilling at opinion@indiancountrytoday.com.

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