Polar bears over people, environmentalism over economies

In the name of climate change initiatives President Obama has, over the course of his presidency, marginalized the voices of the Arctic Iñupiat while destroying our ability to develop a stable economy in Arctic Alaska. He has used our region as a platform to launch conservation efforts that further his own political agenda while discriminating against the needs of our people.

On Dec 20, President Obama released a statement and a presidential memorandum – both tied to a partnership with Canadian Prime Minister Trudeau to “embrace opportunities and confront challenges in the changing Arctic.” The announcements and corresponding executive orders, however, accomplish neither.

{mosads}Instead, his actions represent the administration’s continued failure to acknowledge the people of the Arctic who once put much faith in his Arctic strategies. Alaska Natives have worked hard to become meaningful contributors to policy issues affecting our people, only to find out our voices have once again not been heard.

When Obama visited Alaska in 2015, he vowed to work with indigenous Natives and with the state of Alaska towards realistic solutions for the future sustainability of our villages. We are still waiting on tangible initiatives to deliver on this promise.

The White House statement talks about developing “a strong, sustainable and viable Arctic economy and ecosystem.” However, for the president to infer this will be accomplished through “low-impact shipping, science-based management of marine resources, and free from the future risks of offshore oil and gas activity” gives us no realistic hope of developing a sustainable economy.

As members of the Arctic community, we have consistently expressed the need for investment in research, infrastructure, and other capabilities that complement the existing economy of our region. Like that of our Canadian Inuit family, our economy is directly tied to resource development. However, through recent executive actions, Arctic resource development has been taken off the table with blatant disregard to local needs and input.

His executive orders have effectively squashed any opportunities for continued development of our region, along with the possibility of federal investments in search and rescue, climate change adaptation, community development and oil spill response – to name a few.

The Dec. 20 announcement was not totally unexpected, of course, as the the president has a long history of turning his back on our people and failing to keep his public promises. His actions are much more consistent with an agenda built upon creating a personal legacy instead of working towards a “strong, sustainably and viable Arctic economy and ecosystem.”

While the president’s proclamations appease the environmental community, they are realistically just another lynch-pin in the undoing of the economies of both the Alaskan and Canadian Arctic. The northern people are under assault and are being asked to atone for and bear the costs of climate change for the majority of the global population that live below the Arctic Circle.

In a matter of days, Obama will be sitting in his new office on 24th Street in Washington D.C. – the World Wildlife Fund headquarters building – still pretending his Arctic agenda aligns with Native Alaskans. But for those of us who live in the Arctic, it’s difficult to ignore the fact that his eleventh-hour actions benefit the environmental groups more than they do us – the people directly affected by selfish decisions made on his watch.

Midnight executive orders are fairly routine for soon-to-be ex-presidents, and outgoing administrations have a history of making decisions that stink when it comes to the greater good of the people. That said, and political wrangling aside, most Americans fail to recognize the real losers in this process. Today, the losers are us – the Iñupiat – along with our families, our neighbors, our communities, our region and state.

Native Iñupiat have been consistent in our pleas for more economic opportunities in the Arctic. By the president’s very admission, “those consulted have expressed a strong desire for real and long-term opportunities to build strong families, communities and robust economies,” he said.

If President Obama truly wants Arctic communities to succeed, it sure doesn’t seem like it. His actions throughout his presidency, and especially on his way out the door, are a true disservice to our people.

It’s unfortunate that, despite the best efforts of the Alaska Native community, our voices continue to be ignored. Our region has once again been used as a tool for elevating Obama’s personal environmental record while sticking it to the people who live here.

Sayers Tuzroyluk, Sr. President, Voice of the Arctic Inupiat. Voice of the Arctic Iñupiat (VOAI) is a 501(c)4 nonprofit organization established to provide direct input from the Inupiat people in matters of Arctic policy.

The views expressed by authors are their own and not the views of The Hill.


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