Alaska Natives have been fighting for access to the lands and resources within the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge since the Congress enacted the Alaska National Interest Lands Conservation Act more than 30 years ago.
President Barack Obama and his lieutenants at the Interior Department will permanently harm our people and all Alaskans with his colonial attitude and decision-making. We were promised through ANILCA and the Alaska Native Claims Settlement Act the opportunity to self-govern and build our own futures to some extent, through the formation of regional and village corporations, and the selection of lands to manage.
My people, the Inupiaq, have been harvesting the region’s renewable resources since time immemorial, and it’s time the federal government quit tying our hands behind our backs. Let us have access to our lands, for the betterment of our people, the state and the nation as a whole.
It’s terrifying to see the extent by which our pleas for time and a fair airing of our views fall on deaf ears 5,000 miles away. President Obama said ANWR has supported Native communities, and he’s right. Where he is wrong, very wrong, is in his interpretation that ANWR is fragile.
Our land in the north is resilient, hard, unrelenting. We have adapted to coexist with it and its wildlife over millennia. President Obama’s decision, locking up 12.8 million acres, only serves to further reduce our stewardship role, and the 1002 (coastal plain) set aside, which was specifically singled out due to its rich oil and gas potential.
Now, let us better support our children and grandchildren by responsibly developing our resources. We have been careful stewards of our fish and game resources for as long as our history is recorded — the State of Alaska has some of the strictest and rigorous environmental controls on the planet. We have proven that we can and will act responsibly.
Our people and our state need access to that oil and gas to heat our homes and buildings, power our snow machines and four wheelers, and earn revenues to support our core community services. The area outlined for development is similar in size to Reagan National Airport in the president’s backyard; its impact will be less than one-tenth of 1 percent of the total coastal plain.
We have been advocating the opening of ANWR for decades, and our voice and our values have not changed, only the marionettes in Washington, D.C.
Our frustration grows with every passing season, as the Section 1002 and 1003 language is a ticking clock to when all of ANWR must be managed as wilderness. We must establish and allow for exploration and development now, when it can help us secure our future and contribute the resource to our state and nation.
We will work with our congressional delegation and governor to continue to make our voice heard. I’m personally sad that proposal has come forward. It only strengthens my resolve to continue speaking out.
All Alaskans must join in and present a unified voice asking for inclusion in the process and honor our statehood and ANCSA/ANILCA promises.
Rep. Ben Nageak, D-Barrow, previously served as mayor of the North Slope Borough.