In her Feb. 10 commentary "ANWR worshippers fail to consider Inupiat," North Slope Borough Mayor Charlotte Brower has complaints about the decision President Obama made to ask Congress to consider wilderness for the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge. He is endorsing the recommendation that came out of the Comprehensive Conservation Plan that is required for the refuge.
I support the designation of wilderness for the Coastal Plain. I live in Kaktovik and am directly affected by decisions about the refuge. I see the wilderness designation as the best way to support the Inupiat value -- respect for the land.
Right now I have caribou on my stove that came from up in the mountains south of us -- in the wilderness of the refuge. We do hunt now in wilderness. Every sheep we ever harvest here in Kaktovik is taken in the existing wilderness area. The idea that a wilderness designation is going to stop us from hunting and fishing is without merit because subsistence is guaranteed under ANILCA and is a purpose of the Arctic Refuge. I want wilderness so that I can continue to pursue our traditional activities of hunting and fishing in the refuge. I've asked in many meetings, and no one can give me the guarantee that we could pursue these traditional activities like hunting and fishing in an oil field.
Often we hear rhetoric that without oil money we won't be able to pursue subsistence activities. I have no concern that this will happen. I have watched Kaktovik young people take care of our whales; they do it very well and with enthusiasm. I do not believe even one of them will not pursue traditional activities because of no oil money. To infer that without oil money the people will leave and those who remain will be dependent on the government for their existence and subsistence is insulting to the young people. The mayor should have more faith in our people.
BP and Chevron have existing contractual agreements to develop ASRC subsurface interests if the Arctic refuge is opened. This happened after a 1983 land exchange separate from the Alaska Native Claims Settlement Act. No revenue sharing with other Native corporations will happen under the land exchange agreement.
It appears that Mayor Brower and Rep. Ben Nageak are attempting to further an agenda supportive of their corporation interests. Rep. Nageak has a bill in the Alaska Legislature opposing wilderness designation for the Arctic refuge. If wilderness is designated for the Arctic refuge, no oil exploitation will happen and the agreement with oil companies will be of no value.
The draft comprehensive plan went through a process of public review, including here in Kaktovik. I have heard that the majority of Alaskans' comments and testimony in Fairbanks and Anchorage hearings supported wilderness. Nearly 1 million people across the nation sent in comments of support.
A few years ago a petition was circulated that stated, "The following residents of Kaktovik are opposed to oil development in the "1002 area" of the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge." Seventy people signed the petition.
I'm in favor of wilderness for the refuge because I don't want to live in an oil field.
The Arctic refuge should remain a refuge. It is 5 percent or less of the land that could be exploited for oil on the North Slope. Our future generations should have at least this much to enjoy as our people have enjoyed for thousands of years.
Robert Thompson is an Inupiaq hunter who lives with his wife in Kaktovik, and runs trips in the refuge through the business he founded and owns, Kaktovik Arctic Adventures. He is a father, grandfather and great-grandfather.
The views expressed here are the writer's own and are not necessarily endorsed by Alaska Dispatch News, which welcomes a broad range of viewpoints. To submit a piece for consideration, email commentary(at)alaskadispatch.com.
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