Indigenous people, others gather at community hearing in Albuquerque to defend the Arctic Refuge
A community hearing was held at the University of New Mexico today where members of the public, Congressional, and Indigenous leaders spoke out against plans to sell off the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge for oil and gas development. In December of 2018, The Bureau of Land Management (BLM) released a draft environmental impact statement (DEIS) in preparation for holding an oil and gas lease sale on the ecologically sensitive Coastal Plain of the Arctic Refuge. The DEIS comment period is open until March 13 and only one official public hearing was held in the lower 48 despite repeated requests from Indigenous peoples, conservation organizations, and others.
The Albuquerque Community Hearing allowed community members to comment on the DEIS. It was hosted by members of the Gwich'in, Iñupiaq and Diné Nations, conservation organizations, public land advocates, scholars, and members of Congress. A similar hearing will be held in Denver on Thursday.
Panelist and host, Bernadette Demientieff, Executive Director of the Gwich’in Steering Committee, Alaska, said, “We matter. Across this country, Indigenous people are fighting for our identity and homelands. This misguided rush to open our Refuge disrespects long-held popular and bi-partisan protections for the Arctic Refuge and is yet another example of the Trump administration’s contempt for Indigenous rights in the push to sell out our public lands to big oil companies.”
Samuel Sage, Community Services Coordinator for Counselor Chapter, Navajo Nation, said, “The comparison of what is happening to Indigenous communities in the Arctic to our own Indigenous communities in the Southwest is striking. Just as the Bureau of Land Management endangers the health and safety of Indigenous communities in New Mexico by drilling for oil and gas near Chaco Canyon and elsewhere without regard for us, the Bureau of Land Management is downplaying the dangers of drilling on Indigenous homelands in Alaska. We won’t stand for it.”
Arctic National Wildlife Refuge Photos - Subhankar Banerjee
University of New Mexico professor and professional photographer who has documented the Arctic Refuge for decades, Subhankar Banerjee, said, “This Community Hearing is a great example of democracy in action. The Trump Administration has been fast-tracking this process, suppressing public participation, ignoring concerns by scientists and Indigenous peoples, and not engaging in adequate and meaningful consultation with tribal governments. The Refuge should be protected, not auctioned off to the oil industry, and Indigenous rights should be upheld, not violated.
Siqiniq Maupin, an Iñupiaq who lives in the Arctic Refuge said, “The Trump administration is dismissing Indigenous people, sound science, and repeatedly cutting corners at every step of this process. They are taking away our human rights, our homeland, and our identities.”
About the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge
The Arctic National Wildlife Refuge is a landscape covering over 19 million acres in northeastern Alaska and is America’s largest wildlife refuge. The Refuge has been protected by the federal government since 1960 and has a long history of bipartisan support. In the Gwich’in language, the Arctic Refuge is “the sacred place where life begins” and is home to bears, wolves, caribou, musk oxen, and the 197,000 strong Porcupine Caribou Herd. The Porcupine Caribou Herd is a critical food, clothing and tool source for Alaska Native communities.
In December 2017, Representative Pearce was the only member of the New Mexico Delegation to vote for a tax bill that included a provision to allow for drilling in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge.
Public comments submitted to the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) during the scoping phase for the leasing EIS process were overwhelmingly in support of protecting the Arctic Refuge from development. More than 700,000 comments were submitted in opposition to development.