25-27 APR 1978
Inuit Circumpolar Conference
Consultation on Oil and Gas Exploration and Development in the Arctic
Calgary, Alberta, Canada
Mayor Eben Hopson’s Address
on the Role of Regional Government
in Arctic Resource Development
An important objective of our Inuit land claims movement is the organization of local government in the Arctic. I personally feel this organization must happen within the national context and traditions of Denmark, Canada and the United States. Some may talk about separate Inuit political development, but I do not. All we need is the cooperation of our governments to enable us to make traditional North American local government work for us in the Arctic.
Because our Inuit social organization is based upon regional subsistence habitat, it is important that local government be organized on this same regional basis.
This kind of regional local government organization departs somewhat from normal because of large geographical size and small populations. For instance, the North Slope Borough covers an area of 88,000 square miles and has a resident population of less than 4,000 living in eight small villages.
In the Canadian Arctic, the Inuvialiut western Arctic land claims settlement proposal being advanced by the Committee for Original Peoples’ Entitlement (COPE) would provide for a regional municipality governing an area of 250,000 square miles, with a population of less than 3,000.
Regional government was an important provision of the James Bay Agreement and the Greenland home-rule negotiations are defining local government for Greenland. The inclusion of plans for regional government in land claims negotiations is a new development in Canada and Greenland. In Alaska, local government was not part of land claims negotiations, however, we Inupiat of the Arctic Slope included regional government as an important organizational objective in the context of our land claims movement. This was possible because of the tax base at Prudhoe Bay.
The Prudhoe Bay operators responded to our Borough organization by going to court to try to stop it. They alleged we had no right to include our entire region under Borough government and saw our Borough organization as gerrymandering, reaching out unreasonably to include Prudhoe Bay in our tax base and altering the terms originally made, when Prudhoe Bay was leased to the industry by the State of Alaska.
The opposition of the oil industry against the North Slope Borough, both legal and political, has been detailed in my testimony prepared in 1976 for the Berger Commission, copies of which have been provided to you.
I am hoping this consultation will lead to a change in oil industrial policy toward regional government along the Arctic coast. The oil industry’s opposition to the North Slope Borough is based upon tax avoidance rather than any general opposition to local government in principle. While tax avoidance is a legitimate management objective, care must be taken lest unnecessary and costly scandal result from avoidance of local taxes by the Arctic oil and gas industry. Taxes paid to our new regional governments should be regarded by the oil and gas industry as a normal overhead cost for which provision should be made in all Arctic operational budget projections. And, rather than being regarded negatively, local taxes paid to our regional governments should be seen as a positive investment in sound regional environmental protection in the Arctic.
The ultimate purpose of our regional local governments will be to protect our regional subsistence game habitats, including our offshore marine mammal habitat. But, local government can also be the means through which the oil and gas industry can insure both Inuit cooperation with, and benefit fully from, Arctic oil and gas development.
Our regional governments must be strong, home-rule municipalities with unrestricted revenue authority common to home-rule municipal governments in North America. We must have full planning and zoning powers, and the power to develop and enforce regional coastal zone management regulations in cooperation with Federal, State, political and territorial governmental agencies, and the oil and gas industry.
We regard the North Slope Borough to be the beachhead for strong regional local government all along North America’s Arctic coast. We look to Canada and Greenland to improve upon our model. For instance, the North Slope Borough lacks game management and judicial powers which we would like to see included in regional government in Canada and Greenland.
Because the North Slope Borough shares Canada’s Arctic coastal environmental risks, we want to see these risks managed and minimized by strong local government in Canada. We regard strong regional government all along our coast to be indispensable to the Arctic environmental security of both our Inuit circumpolar homeland and countries.
So, we feel that the Arctic oil and gas industry should include regional government as a necessary part of Arctic oil and gas industrial development. The industry should not repeat its mistakes in Alaska by opposing regional governmental organization which is being sought through our land claims negotiations in Canada and Greenland. Rather, the industry should strongly support this organization as a means of strengthening a stable climate for Arctic operations. This support should extend to political help in Juneau, Yellowknife and Nuuk, as well as Ottawa, Washington D.C. and Copenhagen.
Local regional government can become one of the most important aspects of safe and responsible Arctic resource development.