Alaskan Natives claim Bush's drilling will cause "Cultural Genocide"
- from Anne B..thanks!
Alaskan Natives claim Bush's drilling will cause "Cultural Genocide"
by Ruth Steinberger
Native Alaskan villages may be seriously impacted by environmental damage if the exploration and drilling proposed by President Bush's energy plan moves forward. Additionally, claims made by the oil industry and the Bush administration regarding economic incentives for the proposed drilling are being questioned by environmental and consumer groups.
The Bush administration claims that the exploration and drilling will impact only eight percent of the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge, a refuge containing a total of 19 million acres of Alaskan wilderness.
However, national environmental groups and Native Alaskan tribal members claim that the figure of eight percent is deliberately misleading. National groups voicing opposition to the Bush proposal include the Native American Rights Fund, the National Congress of American Indians, Natural Resources Defense Council, The Sierra Club and numerous others.
The1.5 million acres targeted by the Bush administration is the only area of the Alaskan coastal plains that remains off limits to the oil industry. Sara Chapell, Sierra Club's Alaska Representative, explained that the entire coastal plains are the only area potentially useful to the oil industry. The 1.5 million acres within the refuge is the only portion of the coastal plains to have any legal protection. The remaining 92% is open to leasing and drilling. While the land in question is eight percent of the ANWR, it is only five percent of the coastal plains, the region requiring protection. Chapel told Native American Times that, "This area, this "so called 8%", has been at the heart of the dispute concerning protection of the coastal plains for the last thirty years. The remainder of the coastal plains is available for exploration. The Bush proposal is to remove legal protection from the only region of the coastal plains that is protected. The proposal is to open up 100% of the coastal plains to the oil industry. The region currently protected is only 5% of the coastal plains, with the remaining 95% already open to leasing. This protected region of 5% is the biological heart of ANWR."
The 8% of ANWR proposed for exploration is a region that biologists consistently refer to as the "heart of the refuge". This is the most significant region for maintaining the biodiversity in ANWR, and the impact would be far greater than the figure implies. Much of the ANWR is rocky and too cold, even in summer, for most of the species to use for habitat or for raising their young. The region proposed for oil exploration is where 130,000 caribou return to each year to give birth and to raise their young. It is an irreplaceable sanctuary for white wolves and polar bears.
This region remains crucial to Native Alaskans who depend largely on wildlife and the environment for their subsistence. Native Alaskan villagers and environmental groups believe that the information from the administration and the oil industry is intended to allay fears of damage to the ecosystem, particularly the potential impact on caribou herds. Caribou are the mainstay of Native Alaskan culture. Many Native Alaskans hunt for around 80% of their diet, mainly relying on caribou.
Faith Gemmill, of the Gwich'in Steering Committee of Fairbanks, Alaska told Native American Times, "The Steering Committee was formed in 1988 to address the issue of development in the birthplace of the caribou. We have a mandate from our people to protect this area." Explaining that the caribou is critical to the lifestyle of the villages, Gemmill said, "The caribou is the core of our culture, our spirituality, nutrition and is the heart of our social structure. We've always lived this way, and don't want to be forced to change our way of life, and development will change our way of life in every possible way. We use the caribou for food, clothing, we make tools from the bones of the caribou, our songs and our dances center around the caribou. Each year, when the caribou are in the region, families go into the mountains to harvest caribou and there we share our stories with our youth, that's where they learn our traditions. We need that time on the land with the caribou, it's part of us. We need that time to keep our culture alive, if we loose this -we loose our life. We've been offered money and jobs, we don't want that. We want to continue to live our lives. Development in the region is cultural genocide."
A significant loss of the caribou may also be the beginning of physical genocide. Diabetes, and other medical conditions associated with it, has been linked to the introduction of the western diet in Native Americans. Some tribes experience rates of diabetes in as high as 50% of adults, and the onset of this problem has been documented to begin shortly after a change in diet from a traditional diet to a modern western diet. (Click here for related information)
Oil industry proponents cite the expanding numbers of a neighboring caribou herd existing in a region that already has drilling to offer proof that caribou are unaffected by drilling operations. Sara Chapell, Alaskan representative for the Sierra Club, points out that the reason for expansion of the numbers is unknown, but what is crucial is the fact that the female caribou in the other herd have moved to a different calving ground, avoiding the oil field activity. Chapell explained that while the caribou in the herd that has expanded had the option to move to a different calving ground, there is no such place for the herd that uses the area proposed for drilling by the Bush administration. Sara Chapell said, "It would force these caribou to move into the mountain region [the Brooks Range] for calving. This would put them in a colder climate, with far less forage and with greater opportunities for predation of their young. The grasses and forage in the coastal plains provide optimum nutrition for the mothers, and this would force them away from that."
Chapell explained, "Biologists observing Prudhoe Bay know that caribou avoid oil field activity, especially regarding calving. Those that do calve within the oil fields experience higher rates of problems with their infants, including low birth weight."
Adam Colton, of the Alaska Wilderness League, told Native American Times that the proposed area is in precisely the most ecologically sensitive part of the refuge. Colton said, "Known as the biological heart of the refuge, this is where polar bears den in winter, it's the caribou calving grounds, 135 species of migratory birds use this region for nesting or resting along their way to or from nearly every state. There are fifteen Native Alaskan villages along the caribou migratory route that will be impacted by changes in the herd." Colton cites activities peripheral to the drilling likely to have extensive environmental impact. Gravel mining would be needed to build pads for drilling rigs. Fresh water would be needed to build ice roads necessary for travel in the region. Water for these roads would be dredged from local streams, impacting fish and water quality. Colton summed up the impact on Native Alaskans saying, "What this boils down to is that any claims made by the administration are inconclusive and damage will have a major impact on a herd that's vital to the survival of 7,000 native people." Colton concluded that, "Saying that it's only eight percent-this is the entire coastal plains that would become open to the oil industry-it's like loggers saying we only want to log in the national forest where there happen to be trees."
Gideon James, of Tribal Services of the Ventie Tribal Government told Native American Times that this issue is a decisive one for people everywhere. James said, "I was born and raised here. I am an elder and have seen a lot of changes, especially with the weather and the animals that the native people around here depend on. It's hotter, the plants are affected, the colors of the leaves are changing. People that use this land notice this. They [the Bush administration] keep leaving us out of the picture. The administration says we don't have scientific facts...what is this? The scientific facts are already here. It's right in front of us. Bush is an oil man and people have to decide which side they're on, destruction or conservation."
Shawn Martinez, of the Ventie Tribal Government, reflected on the agenda of the proposed drilling operations. Martinez told Native American Times, "Drilling in the caribou calving ground is like forcing a woman to give birth in an automotive shop." Referencing the 1988 gathering to discuss prevention of development in the region, Martinez explained, "We worked together to prevent development and to discuss what the carabou mean to us- spiritually and financially as well. For thousands of years our people have subsisted off the caribou, our culture is based on the caribou and we still depend on the caribou. The same thing was done to the buffalo, it's beyond me, it's beyond all of us. The oil industry claims they can explore and drill without affecting us, but this will affect us."
An April 26, 2001, Wall Street Journal article reveals that oil spills occur in neighboring Prudhoe Bay, only 60 miles away, at the rate of 400 spills per year. The article also revealed that 10% of safety valves in the Prudhoe Bay oil drilling rigs failed to pass inspection.
The benefits of drilling in Arctic National Wildlife Refuge will not be realized for seven to ten years, if at all. The US Geological Study that was released refers to oil that is "technically recoverable", not economically recoverable. This distinction means that it may be recoverable, but not in a cost effective manner. While the Bush administration touts the lowering of prices at the pump, the quantity of oil that is potentially in the region is so small that it will not, at any time, affect the price of oil at the pump.
Elliott Negin, of the Natural Resources Defense Council, offered strong words on the agenda of the Bush administration. Negin said, "The Bush plan pays lip service to efficiency, but basically his plan is a wet kiss to the coal and oil industries. The plan pushes oil industry profits at the expense of the environment and public health. Oil prices are part of a world economy and prices at the pump will be untouched by the small amount of oil that may ultimately be present in the refuge. If we increase our fuel mileage by 3 mpg over ten years, this will equal any potential from the proposed drilling." Negin continued, "The Bush/ Cheney plan is crazy and it's a gift to the oil and coal industries- principal donors to the Bush campaign. We call it the "more pollution solution", the only people who will benefit from this are the oil company executives."
Reprinted under the Fair Use http://www4.law.cornell.edu/uscode/17/107.html doctrine of international copyright law.
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