The relationship between Alaska’s Indigenous peoples, especially the Iñupiat and the oil and gas extractive industry has been gravely misrepresented for too long.
Lateral violence (violence enacted between peers) is at an all-time high within our Indigenous populations, especially those with extractive industries’ heavy presence.
Leaders from Arctic Slope Regional Corporation (ASRC), Voice of the Arctic Inupiat, and the North Slope Borough continue to misrepresent and tokenize their own constituents and Indigenous communities, going as far as stating all Alaska Native peoples that support conservation and understand science support ending our ways of life.
Our communities are made up of brilliant minds who come from generations of innovators, progressive thinkers, and strong resilience. We may not all agree, but our values teach us all to be respectful, a quality that is lacking when extractive industry’s agenda is being pushed.
The misrepresentation and tokenization of our people has carried over to the Representatives in the State of Alaska government, which recently passed resolution HJR 12 endorsing the January lease sale in the coastal plain of the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge.
HJR 12 states that most communities along the North Slope and around the Arctic Refuge want these oil and gas extraction and production projects to happen. Yet we all have access to the public testimonies from the Bureau of Land Management’s review process in these communities.
When we read the testimonies, we found that the majority of Indigenous people in Alaska commented about how they want more protections for animals and water, fewer impacts on the environment, more information about the land before work begins, enhanced oversight and control of the employees on our land, and so much more.
The romanticized image of Nuiqsut, a small village surrounded by oil and gas in the Arctic Slope, has been benefiting from oil and gas without cost and needs to be eradicated.
Sure, there is monetary benefit for a few but this comes at a huge price, our health and culture.
A peer reviewed report given to each board member of ASRC at their annual shareholder meeting held in 2019, described the impacts of pollutants and toxins from local oil and gas development on the residents of Nuiqsut. This includes rare cancers, dementia, Alzheimer's, asthma, loss of taste and smell, and so much more.
Traditional ecological knowledge also tells us the land is sick. Yet, the massive Master Willow Project has been rushed while tribal leaders and stakeholders begged the Bureau of Land Management to stop all processes during their virtual hearings until the pandemic was under control. But not even an extension in the commenting period was given.
The tobacco corporations sold the idea that smoking wasn’t unhealthy, arguing it was even beneficial for health. That seems laughable today, yet the oil and gas corporations are doing the same through their narrative that Iñupiat and Alaska Native communities want these projects and these extractions are safe, healthy, and beneficial to the people.
When will we be given all the information to make an informed decision about oil and gas extraction directly affecting us?
When we are asked if we support drilling, we should also be asked: What are you willing to lose? Your child's ability to breathe without medication? Young men in your community becoming overly aggressive due to pollutant exposure? Male genes being changed within the womb resulting in mostly female births? Increased diagnosis of leukemia in children? Sound pollution? Increased mental health illness and addictions?
When the entire picture is presented it’s not as black and white as industry leaders, including those from our own communities, make it seem. There is room for disagreement and different opinions, but we reject the false message “All Inupiaq and Alaska Native Peoples want oil and gas extraction in their backyards.”
All Alaska Native communities need safe infrastructure, accessible housing, food security. All Indigenous peoples of Alaska want health and wellness in their homes, families, and in their nations.
Sovereign Iñupiat for a Living Arctic (SILA) urges President Biden and the Secretary of Interior Deb Haaland to listen to the people, not the corporations or organizations that stand to profit. You have access to the testimonies from the communities that live within the Arctic Slope and are directly affected by these decisions.
Listen to the people on the ground, not the millionaires.
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 firstname.lastname@example.org.
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