Energy

Tribe Living In Arctic Wilderness Says Environmental Regs Are Making Them ‘Conservation Refugees’

An Alaskan Iñupiat tribal representative asked Congress to open the 1002 area of the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge (ANWR) to oil development, before his village becomes “conservation refugees.”

Kaktovik village tribal administrator Matthew Rexford addressed the Senate Committee on Energy and Natural Resources in a hearing Thursday over the possibility of opening up ANWR’s 1002 area to oil and gas development.

Kaktovik village tribal administrator Rexford lives in the only populated community inside the 1002 area, a piece of land about the size of Delaware. 1002 was designated in 1980 as a potential extraction point for the vast amounts of oil and gas underneath the wilderness reserve.

“We do not approve of efforts to turn our homeland into one giant national park, which literally guarantees us a fate with no economy, no jobs, reduced subsistence and no hope for the future of our people,” Rexford told the committee. “We are already being impacted by restrictions of access to the federal lands for subsistence purposes – this is really disturbing to us since we have lived here long before there ever was a refuge designated.”

Rexford went on to say that the opinions and wishes of the Iñupiat, the people closest to the land in question, seem to have the least amount of say in the way its handled. This led to Kaktovik partnering with 18 other Alaskan villages to form the Voice of the Arctic Iñupiat in 2015.

“Attempts to permanently block development in the 1002 – an area intentionally not designated as wilderness because of its oil and gas potential – is a slap in the face to our region and its people,” Rexford said. “It’s exactly the same as saying, ‘it’s okay for everyone else in this country to have a thriving economy, but you can’t have one at all.'”

Another tribal member, Sam Alexander of Alaska’s Gwich’in Nation, pushed back against arctic drilling in the 1002 area.

“To be Gwich’in is to believe that the land and the animals on it are owed our deepest respect,” Alexander said. “In that regard, it is our duty as Gwich’in to protect the land and the animals. We as Gwich’in see the desire to open up the Refuge as an attack on us, and on the porcupine and caribou herd on which we depend.”

Alexander said development in ANWR, even if its just relegated to the 1002 area, would have a large impact on caribou herds’ breeding areas and movements.

“We’re not sitting here asking for anything. We’re not saying we need hospitals, or we need schools, or we need all these things. We’re not saying give us money, what we’re saying is let us live as Gwich’in,” Alexander said.

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