Splitting our leaders is helping industry get their way with the locals carrying the risk. After attending the Barrow health impact assessment meetings for the National Petroleum Reserve Alaska where the impacts to health from oil and gas development report were discussed, I am faced with these stories from leaders in the Arctic, who have much concern about the process of change in our lands and waters. As indigenous people, we have much at stake to continue to be Inupiat in these same lands and waters. We have many maps that have been presented by the previous North Slope Borough Mayors saying, "We don't want to end up like Nuiqsut!" Yet as Mayor of Nuiqsut I was kept out of meetings that changed the Cross Island deferral for whaling.
Current stories are showing many are putting pressure on leadership. Now our own leaders are following this tactic, to break down those who have gone to Washington, D.C., to share our concerns and educate them. It seems to be easier to put down their efforts than to find ways to improve the safety of us all for the generations to come.
We deserve to have every possible mechanism put in place to keep us safe in the lands and waters where oil and gas are. We deserve to continue our traditional and cultural activities into the future with healthy families and lands and waters. This is all we are doing in our local community meetings where we see our people who share concerns, as well as share other concerns among us because of actions taken by the petroleum companies.
I went to Washington, D.C., to participate with others who are making decisions affecting our lands and waters. I had a group of elders who came to ask me to talk about the importance of our health and our traditions and our culture, because I have always spoke the truth, spoke from the heart and tried my best.
Many have given up their own time, money from their jobs, time from their families, to help improve the way activities are occurring and give us hope. I thank all who have done this and I applaud you from the bottom of my heart. I have logged thousands of miles, and a few years ago I donated so much time to attend 39 meetings, that I made less than $20,000 in earned income. I know others have given selflessly also.
We have to find the way to get to these legislators that allow the process to continue with oils plans. I asked for more nebulizers for our village clinic and was told to choose between dressings for a man who froze his hands or tubing for people to use when they came to the clinic needing medicine to help them breath. I spent many nights helping people breath. An elder in Pt. Hope told me I speak for her as she cannot breathe if her grandson comes in with his winter clothes on after riding the snow machine to bring her foods.
We have tons of emissions changing our air quality and we can improve the risks we take by learning more about the petroleum process and speaking out to help our families breathe better. There are many who have bad breathing due to smoking also, yet people who never smoke have trouble breathing also. Studies show we need to use low sulfur fuels to reduce our risk. The same concerns we tell in our meetings are the same concerns we are sharing and the records show our concerns in DC where industry has the records of our meetings and past stories of our elders, but are not included, instead they are lumped into concerns of the village for caribou. Our local people will carry the risk and we need our leaders to work together for us all finding the way.
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Rosemary Ahtuangaruak is the former mayor of the North Slope village of Nuiqsut. This story originally appeared in The Arctic Sounder and is reprinted here with permission.