Lately it seems the only constant in life is the changing environment. Whether it is climate, economic, public health or public policy, as Americans, we find ourselves having to adapt and adjust to the bombardment of change. Fortunately, as Iñupiaq, resiliency and adaptability are part of our DNA. Just as we do when we are whaling, hunting, and fishing, we assess the landscape to make informed and sometimes difficult decisions.
In his recent vote to confirm Debra Haaland as Secretary of the U.S. Department of the Interior, Sen. Dan Sullivan took the time to assess the political landscape of Washington, D.C., and made a difficult and strategic decision to support her confirmation. That is leadership.
The North Slope of Alaska has contributed billions of dollars to Alaska treasury and into the homes of thousands of Alaskans through jobs, dividends, profit sharing, community engagement and nonprofit support. The North Slope is our ancestral home and leadership has worked hard to ensure that the North Slope is open for business with local leadership and input guiding the process. That is self-determination.
It is important to remember that the issues impacting business within the boundaries of the North Slope impact families and communities from Point Lay, Huslia, Stebbins, Nunapitchuk, to Wales, Sand Point, Yakutat, Old Harbor, Tok, Craig and all points in between. The U.S. Department of the Interior’s authority and oversight over federal land interests in Alaska far outweighs the oversight and authority of its cabinet counterparts. While there may be daylight between the development appetite in Alaska and Secretary Haaland’s proven policy record, right now we need diplomacy and leadership to guide the business before the U.S. Department of the Interior. That is tact.
It is common knowledge that Sen. Sullivan is not aligned with the Biden administration’s policies because of their harmful nature to Alaska. He outlined this position in his March 15 press release on his official website. Sen. Sullivan was sent to Washington, D.C. to lead, not to stand in the corner stomping his foot because he didn’t get his way. That is judgment.
While we join Sen. Sullivan in opposition of the Biden administration’s attempts to lock up Alaska, we stand behind his vote to confirm Secretary Haaland. This is solidarity.
For too long, our region had to fight to get a seat at the table as policymakers were deciding the future of the North Slope without local leadership input. Our region was the only region to oppose the substance and passage of the Alaska Native Claims Settlement Act of 1971, a landmark taking of aboriginal lands. We know all too well what it is like to be on the outside looking in. That history runs deep.
For those quick to criticize Sen. Sullivan, we encourage you to take a step back and see the longer-term vision and resist the temptation to stoop down to promote political rhetoric.
Leadership is hard work. We would rather Sen. Sullivan work hard to gain a seat at the discussion table instead of standing outside of the Main Interior Building looking in.
Rex A. Rock Sr. is a whaling captain and the president and CEO of Arctic Slope Regional Corporation, which is owned by and represents the business interests of the Arctic Slope Iñupiat. With a shareholder base of approximately 13,000 people, it represents eight villages on the North Slope - Point Hope, Point Lay, Wainwright, Atqasuk, Utqiaġvik (Barrow), Nuiqsut, Kaktovik and Anaktuvuk Pass.
Crawford Patkotak is also a whaling captain, and serves as board chairman for Arctic Slope Regional Corporation.
Harry Brower Jr. is a whaling captain and serves as the mayor of the North Slope Borough, the largest municipality in the United States by area.
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