Inupiat Eskimos First, Best Environmentalists

by Former Mayor Benjamin P. Nageak on ANWR Development

ben nageakThe Inupiat people of the North Slope have called the Arctic their home for thousands of years. Long before the riches of this land and its seas were "discovered" by outside cultures, the Inupiat built a world that centered on their interdependence with the vast and diverse animal life found in their seas, skies and land.

This world of the Arctic, including the vast expanse termed the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge by the United States government, has seen my peopleís footprints throughout history. We used the resources God gave us to build a life for our families.

This is why it is hard for my people to understand how anyone can view ANWR as some vast, frozen wilderness untouched by human hands. This picture of ANWR leaves out one of its most important elements - the Inupiat people who have shared the resources of that land with its animals since pre-history.

I was taught by my father to respect the land and itís resources because our very life depends on them. I realize life is different for me than it was for my father. But we are both the same in our dependence on the resources found on our lands. For my father, it was the food he hunted to feed his family. I also use the land to hunt food for my family. But the oil beneath the surface of ANWR can also provide jobs, schools and a thriving economy for my people.

I fully understand the fears of many people that the presence of the oil industry on the coastal plains will disrupt the wildlife. They fear that industry activity will destroy a part of this earth that should be preserved.

The Inupiat people probably feel those fears more strongly than people in the lower Ď48. This land is our legacy to our children. This land holds our future and the survival of our culture.

In 1969, when oil was first discovered on our lands, those fears were foremost in our minds as we fought for self-determination in order to be able to protect our resources. Since then, we have had over twenty years of working with the oil industry here. We enacted strict regulations to protect our land and the oil companies have consistently met the standards we imposed.

ANWR holds resources that can be extracted safely with care and concern for the entire eco-system it encompasses. The Inupiat people, working through the North Slope Borough, will act in the same careful, caring and cautious manner we always have when dealing with our lands and the seas.

We have the greatest stake possible in seeing that any and all development is done in such a way as to keep this land safe. Because it is our world. It is where we live. It holds the remains of our ancestors. It holds the future of our children.

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