Let’s talk about the draft Environmental Impact Statement (EIS) for the oil and gas leasing program of the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge’s coastal plain. Why? Because it’s flawed for many reasons. The information in the rushed DEIS is extremely one sided -- containing little to no knowledge from previous public hearings. This infringes upon our rights to public process and ignores the voices of the most impacted people, it breaks international treaty agreements, and it violates the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous People, which causes concerns that need to be addressed.
The EIS process and Alaska National Interest Lands Conservation Act section 810 were established in order to ensure that the people had a voice and input throughout. These are required for any action to withdraw, reserve, lease, or otherwise permit the use, occupancy, or disposition of public lands in Alaska under any provision of law authorizing such actions. Yet, this is not happening. BLM has not meaningfully consulted with every Gwich’in community, and they must do so, because we all will be impacted. We have our own systems and agencies with a direct accountability to this land that have to be involved, as required by law. We have ecological, sociological and economic concerns that need to be addressed.
All of our villages -- including those in Canada -- are strategically placed in relation to the migration route of the Porcupine River caribou herd. First Nations Gwich’in communities must be aware that the International Responsibilities established in the Agreement between the Government of Canada and the Government of the United States of America on the Conservation of the Porcupine Caribou Herd, that was signed in 1987, is being broken. This directly establishes the responsibilities of both parties and their obligation to maintain the conservation of the Porcupine River Caribou Herd. Oil and Gas exploration in this area will go directly against this agreement.
There is an inherent linguistic issue with the EIS -- it has been compiled from solely the english perspective, which is extremely problematic. An entire base of knowledge is being overlooked while important decisions are being made about our homelands. According to Article 13, Section 2 of the U.N. Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous People, there need to be translators to fully understand that all of our concerns are addressed -- every meeting and every document. This is the true relationship that is needed to make an informed analysis about the Coastal Plain. Our languages are the official languages of our state and our people, the original inhabitants of this place have the right to speak our native tongue. The BLM has failed especially in the translation of the EIS into both Gwich’in and Inupiaq languages.
These inequities in our systems need to be addressed. It is not until these systems are in place and being practiced to accurately reflect all knowledge bases, languages and perspectives, that we can fully understand the implications of oil development on our homelands.
This process, if done right, could be an amazing opportunity to learn from the people of this land. Alaskans and Americans demand that the Department of Interior consider the sacredness of the coastal plain in their process and carry out meaningful consultation with Indigenous peoples and all those impacted. The answer is in a just transition that involves the Indigenous people as equal decisionmakers. As the world looks to Alaska, we can be the leaders who harness the power of our land in a way that is sustainable, healthy and ethical to all. We have energy solutions that will help our economy, employment, and that don’t involve the destruction of our home.
Please stand strong with the Gwich’in and show up to the public hearing today between 1pm and 7pm at the Dena’ina Center.
Rochelle Adams (Gwich’in) is an Alaska Native cultural advisor, linguist, artist and cultural bearer from the rural villages of Fort Yukon and Beaver.
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