23 JUNE 1978
to the London Press Corps
Good Morning. Thank you for attending this press conference. My name is Eben Hopson, and I speak to you today as Mayor of Alaska’s North Slope borough; as chairman of the Inuit Circumpolar Conference; and as a spokesman for the Alaska Eskimo Whaling Commission.
I have traveled from Barrow to London to defend our Inupiat subsistence bowhead whaling rights from harm from the international politics of commercial whaling.
It was the bowhead whale that brought my grandfather, Fred Hopson, to Barrow from Liverpool. Point Barrow, the northern-most point in Alaska was named by Royal Navy Captain Frederick W. Beechey, when his ship was crushed in the ice while he tried to round the point in 1826. Captain Beechey’s crew landed and wintered at what is now the village of Barrow, Alaska.
And today, British Petroleum is one of our largest Arctic oil and gas operators.
My son Eben Hopson, Jr., served in Northern Ireland in the U.S. Navy, and he stayed here and is raising his family in Londonderry.
We go way back with Great Britain. As the world becomes smaller, we will grow closer together. The Arctic has been good to England in the past. Our Arctic homeland is important to England today, and it will become even more important to you in the future.
My purpose in asking to meet with you today is to ask the people of England for political help and support. We need help with our efforts to defend the environmental security of our North American Arctic homeland. We Inuit are an international community of some 100,000 residing mostly in small villages along the Arctic coasts of Alaska, Canada, and Greenland. We are loyal citizens of the United States, Canada, and Greenland, but we are Inuit, or Eskimo, first and foremost.
We Inuit are hunters. There aren’t many subsistence hunting societies left in the world, but our Inuit Circumpolar community is one of them.
As the indigenous, native people of the Arctic, we enjoy certain native rights and entitlements which were always respected and protected when England, France and Spain rules in North America, and which continue to be honored and protected by Denmark in Greenland.
Much of the legal foundation for native rights in North America was developed through European colonial administration, and confirmed in many old treaties transferring political sovereignty over new world territories.
Because of our cold Arctic environment, our native rights in the Arctic were respected and upheld because others could not live on our land to compete with us. This was generally true until oil and gas were discovered at Prudhoe Bay. Since then, we have had to fight against a gradual erosion of our native rights and to guard against an increasing threat to our Arctic environmental security.
Now we have great need for Britain to explain to our governments in the United States and Canada your legal tradition of respect for indigenous native rights. We need your legal scholars to explain U.S. and Canadian constitutional obligations of honorable people to honor these rights. We need your historians to recount our constitutional history in the Arctic. We need Englishmen to cry out for justice in the Arctic.
We have watched Canada and the United States grow into strong and independent nations from our high Arctic point of view, and we know England continues to have a strong moral and spiritual influence in Washington D.C. and Ottawa. We need that influence on our side as we undertake to defend and protect the worldwide values of our Arctic homeland.
We are aware of the world’s need for oil and gas underlying our homeland. We believe it possible to extract these resources without intolerable harm to the eternal values of our land, but more care must be taken than is the case today. Our entire North American Arctic homeland is a vast wildlife habitat nourishing a very fragile food chain in which we Inuit are but an important link. Our Arctic existence depends upon “subsistence hunting”, a political and legal term in the United States which refers to the hunting which must be done if we are to eat. Our native hunting and whaling rights proceed directly from our basic right to eat.
Much of our subsistence game is migratory across international boundaries into which our homeland has been dissected. The caribou, polar bear, several species of whale, including the bowhead, seals and other sea mammals, and ducks and geese all are the moving parts of a single Arctic ecological system of wildlife habitats upon which we Inuit have always hunted to survive. We all must look to these animals we hunt as index species with which to measure the environmental safety of all Arctic oil and gas operations.
Possibly the most important of these index species is the bowhead whale. He is the most alert to environmental danger, and the least tolerant of intrusion or environmental insult. The bowhead will not wait around to be threatened by an oil spill. He needs only to be insulted to make him deviate sharply from his traditional routine. We don’t want anything to happen to disturb bowhead migratory routes because our villages are located along these routes. If the bowhead migrates elsewhere because of insulting offshore oil and gas operations, our villages will disappear. Without the bowhead whale, Barrow would not exist.
Our most respected elders gathered in Barrow last month where they told us they have detected a westward shift of the bowhead calving and breeding area from near Banks Island to an area between Kaktovik, Alaska, and Herschel Island in West Mackenzie Bay. We suspect they are insulted by, and avoiding the first summer season Beaufort Sea deep water drill ship operations off the Tuktoyuktuk Peninsula in the Canadian western Arctic. We have determined Dome Petroleum’s Mackenzie Bay operations would not pass muster under U.S. Arctic environmental safeguards. We worry that the oil and gas industry can gain Canadian government approval for operations in our Beaufort Sea which would not win approval in the U.S. territorial waters. Clearly, we need one set of rules for all Arctic offshore operations.
So, we worry about the impact of Arctic oil and gas operations upon our migratory game. Our experience with the Prudhoe Bay oil field has indicated caribou can coexist with oil field operations, but they are insulted by the Fairbanks-Prudhoe Bay Haul Road.
The boom-bust cycle caused by large oil field development has caused high unemployment in Alaska leading to broad political support for permanent public use of the construction haul road used to build the oil pipeline. This is viewed as an important economic development leading to jobs for the unemployed. Alaskan politicians have become unable to defend our common Arctic environmental security from this outrageously uneconomic and environmentally harmful development. The same is true for the Dempster Highway through Canada’s Yukon Territory to the Mackenzie River Delta. We must simply not build public highways across the Arctic.
Such highways will mean the end of the U.S./Canadian Arctic caribou migration upon which thousands of Inuit and Indian people depend for survival. We see the need for international Arctic policy agreements to defend our homeland from irresponsible highway development, and unsafe or untried offshore operations, and other harmful resource development practices. In our search for this Arctic policy agreement, we have organized the Inuit Circumpolar Conference. Meeting for the first time in Barrow last year, the Inuit Circumpolar Conference issued ICC Resolution 77-06, a resolution concerning environmental policy which called for Denmark, Canada, the United States, and the USSR to agree on a common set of rules for all onshore and offshore Arctic oil and gas development; and to involve our Inuit community in this rule making; to help us establish an Inuit-controlled technology assessment program; and to insure the new international rules for Arctic resource development provide for:
1. safe technology,
2. Arctic population limitations,
3. Inuit-controlled wildlife management,
4. military use restrictions,
5. conservation of traditional land use values,
6. assured access to government Arctic information and data, and
7. the development of an Arctic Coastal Zone Management Program, complete with a reliable environmental impact assessment process in which we Inuit can have confidence.
We Inuit believe that we have the right to participate in the development and implementation of international North American Arctic policy agreements. If we are to enjoy our Inuit hunting rights we must also be able to manage our land. With great care taken, our land can yield its subsurface wealth to the world, but we Inuit have the right to determine just how much care must be taken. Proceeding from our native hunting rights is the right to manage and protect our subsistence game habitat safe from harm. Our subsistence hunting rights must be the core of any successful Arctic resource management regime.
The United States, Canada and Denmark hold a common trust responsibility to protect and defend Inuit rights and entitlement against encroachment. But when the United States failed to object to International Whaling Commission jurisdiction over our bowhead subsistence whaling, it told us that we could no longer count upon the United States to honor her native trust responsibility by defending our Inuit hunting rights in the Arctic against encroachment by the IWC, or any other politically powerful special interest group. Native Americans all over the United States and Canada have detected strong white backlash against federal protection of Native Land Claims, and hunting and water rights. Recently the U.S. Attorney General opened negotiations with the Secretary of Interior to determine how the United States can legally abandon its trust responsibilities to always defend native rights against encroachment.
Reliable Arctic environmental protection must depend upon those of us who live in the Arctic. If Inuit rights continue to be dishonored and ignored in the United States and Canada, Arctic oil and gas development will mean the most shameful era of circumpolar environmental degradation, and the death of the Inuit. It is our hope British and European political influence might be used to shore up lagging democratic respect and support for native rights in the United States and Canada. In this connection, the Greenland home rule negotiations are seen as very important in the evolution of democratic self-determination in the Arctic. And, just as our people in Greenland are defining their future constitutional relationship with Denmark and the European Economic Community, our land claims negotiations in Canada are defining the constitutional relationship of Canada’s Inuit with the rest of the Canadian federation.
But next week’s International Whaling Commission meeting provides a good opportunity for England to influence justice in the Arctic. We have come to London to ask the IWC to honor our native subsistence whaling rights, and to restore our bowhead hunt with exemption from IWC regulation. We have organized the Alaska Eskimo Whaling Commission to bring our whaling under self-regulation. IWC nations can pretty much see now that the entire bowhead controversy was part of the Nixon Administration’s grandstanding international commercial whaling politics designed to distract America’s environmentalists from serious environmental degradation at home.
Our Inupiat Whalers were the target of a seven-year campaign of slander, ignorance, and bad information about the status of the bowhead whale, and I believe that with help from England and other fair minded nations, we can set things right. The Alaska Eskimo Whaling Commission has come to London seeking:
1. Restoration of IWC exemption of subsistence bowhead whaling from IWC regulation.
2. IWC organization to deal with problems of subsistence whaling species conservation separate and apart from the IWC’s regulation of commercial whaling.
3. IWC stipulations allowing for self-regulation of native subsistence whaling, wherever it exists in the world, through such organizations as the Alaska Eskimo Whaling Commission, including power to establish and enforce any necessary harvest quotas.
4. Modification of existing 1978 IWC bowhead harvest quota to reflect new bowhead census data, and to permit fall whaling.
All we want from the International Whaling Commission is fair, and strong, international support for us next week, which will contribute greatly to world Arctic environmental security. I’m hoping the press here will report our story, and help us win the support we need.
I would also like to take this opportunity to tell you how we regard British Petroleum in the Arctic. I would say British Petroleum is the most socially responsible and politically aware of all our Prudhoe Bay taxpayers. British Petroleum has demonstrated a responsible reluctance to operate offshore in the Arctic because of the unresolved questions and problems. If all Arctic operators used the foresight and political and environmental care of British Petroleum, communications between the Inuit community and the Arctic oil and gas industry would be far better than they are.
I realize British Petroleum benefits from painful lessons Great Britain has learned from hundreds of years of doing business overseas. In an industry with a reputation in Alaska for its unfriendly, insensitive, and politically inept style, British Petroleum has stood out as an expression of Britain’s international concern for fairness and justice, and also her skill at international trade.
Once, again, thank you for coming here to meet with me today. I will be happy to answer any questions.