It’s no secret that environmental non-governmental organizations (ENGOs) reserve a special place in their wallets – I mean hearts – for Alaska. After all, we are the gift that keeps on giving.
So blessed is our great state that we provide a seemingly endless list of projects to oppose and animals to protect. The result is an equally endless flow of green dollars to green organizations who see environmentalism as a business instead of a cause. Naturally, these activists have been busy, particularly when it comes to opposing activity in the American Arctic.
From the ENGO-funded protests that saw activists board Shell’s Alaska-bound drilling rig to the Greenpeace minions who swarmed Puget Sound in kayaks to prevent it from reaching its destination – Alaska’s OCS is big business for the greenies.
And, of course, there’s the endless list of indigenous Arctic animal species they want protected, because there’s money to be made there too. Whales, polar bears, seals and walruses. The list goes on, but in each of these cases you have to wonder who the winners and losers of these causes are.
Make no mistake about it, the North Slope Borough and the entire Arctic Slope region are heavily dependent upon oil and gas revenues for jobs, economic opportunities and continued subsistence use. Of course, at the same time, outside activist organizations are hungry for new revenue opportunities and Alaska is ripe for the picking.
As complex as the development versus preservation argument may seem, for Alaska’s Iñupiat it remains very clear. We need to balance ecological preservation with responsible resource development to ensure a sustainable future for our people and our culture.
Despite the self-serving rhetoric propagated by many ENGOs, we are not victims of climate change. We are not opposed to development. We are not going to abandon our culture or subsistence lifestyles. We are also not going to close the door on our collective future by preemptively shutting down economic opportunities in our own backyard.
Special interest groups continue to use our people and culture as a backdrop for their fundraising agendas or to further their anti-development views, which should be alarming not only to my fellow Iñupiat, but to all Alaskans and Americans. Organizations that wants to turn our region into a wildlife refuge rather than recognizing the abundant resources which the Iñupiat people rely on – a healthy ecosystem to support subsistence resources, and oil and gas resources to support economic development – do not have our best interests in mind.
It is these very same special interest groups who once objected to our whaling culture but now conveniently call for the protection of that subsistence lifestyle to support their offshore political agendas. Soon they will be back to jeopardizing our traditional activities by lobbying Washington to list the animals we rely on for subsistence as threatened or endangered.
It is disappointing that the longevity of my people and the success of our region are secondary to the preservation of our wildlife and pristine Arctic environment. The Iñupiat have been stewards of our region for thousands of years and understand that a healthy ecosystem and a sustained North Slope economy are both necessary for our continued survival.
We are capable of managing activities in our region and environmental groups should not usurp our voice for their own agendas. We are intelligent, adaptive and resourceful people with the capacity and right to engage in all policy decisions affecting our well-being.
I ask that policy makers fully integrate Iñupiat values and priorities into their agendas. I further ask that, in an attempt to protect our region, special interest groups not jeopardize our existence by eliminating our economy for the sake of theirs.
I refuse to allow outside environmental groups to throw away our region’s economic potential or for the Iñupiat people themselves to become the endangered species. Cultural preservation and economic sustainability are not mutually exclusive, but instead require balanced policy.
It is my hope that in the future the Iñupiat people will no longer be utilized for anyone’s agenda. It’s time that we stand up to outside interest groups and fight for what’s right for our people, our culture and our communities.
John Hopson, Jr. is the mayor of Wainwright, Alaska. He is also vice chairman of Voice of the Arctic Iñupiat – a nonprofit entity dedicated to protecting the interests of Arctic Slope Iñupiat.
The views expressed by authors are their own and not the views of The Hill.