NSB Publishes Beaufort Sea Study
Beaufort Sea Study Historic and Subsistence Site Inventory: A Preliminary Cultural Resource Assessment by Jon M. Nielson. Barrow, Alaska; published by the North Slope Borough, December, 1977, 113 pp.
In 1975, Eben Hopson stated before the Berger Inquiry studying the possible impact of a pipeline in the Mackenzie River Valley:

After the State leased our land to the oil corporations, they moved onto our land to behave in ways that would never be permitted today. Gravel, a most precious commodity in the Arctic, was removed from river beds and beaches without proper regard to environmental impact. The gravel was used to build roads and pads over our old graveyards, and our sod houses at our fishing and summer camps were destroyed. Fish spawning areas were destroyed, and fish were killed during seismic exploration in our lakes. The ancient caribou migration routes began being disturbed along our coast, and many of us feel that Prudhoe Bay and associated pipeline construction is to blame for what appears to our State game biologists to be a serious decline in our caribou herds. Our land began being littered by the junk of oil exploration. We suffered serious trespass.

In the same year of 1975, the Department of Interior published a study: Alaska Sea Grant Project: The Social and Economic Impact Assessment of Alaska Outer Continental Shelf Petroleum Development, which established a framework for the selection and sale of oil leases in the Outer Continental Shelf of Alaska. Among the areas that could be impacted by such a lease sale is the huge area encompassed by the North Slope, including the barrier Islands, the Arctic Plain and Arctic Foothills.

In determining the scale of possible OCS development, the interior study posed the following preliminaries: 1) social and cultural analysis; 2) economic and demographic studies; 3) physical and environmental assessments; and 4) technological feasibility. Based on these considerations, the OCS development then should conform to four possible alternatives: from a level of high production to a level of no production.

The purpose of the Beaufort Sea Study, commissioned and published by the NSB and available at the offices of the North Slope Borough, is to offer an historical and cultural analysis of the Arctic coast lying between the Colville and the Canning Rivers, and the whole North Slope region likely to be affected by OCS development. (As it now stands, if the proposed lease-sales in the Beaufort Sea are approved, they will take place in late 1979).

The study notes that areas of OCS development will affect the Eskimo’s use of the land and the physical environment and will “surely continue the process, begun over a century ago, of altering local economic and social patterns of an area which is “rich in culture and history and exists today as one of the world’s largely untouched ecological habitats, where man and nature exist, as they have for thousands of years, in delicate balance.”

The study starts by discussing the legislative authorization already in existence which may be appealed to in protecting the cultural and environmental values of the North Slope. There is a description of the provisions of the National Historic Preservation Act of 1966, the National Foundation on the Arts and Humanities Act of 1965, and the National Environmental Protection Act of 1969. Considerable attention is given to the Alaska Historic Preservation Act of 1971 and the Native Claims Settlement Act of 1971, which has spawned no less than six major Alaska public land bills in Congress. The present controversy over D-2 Lands has given rise to an “urgent need,” the study says, “for the regional and village corporations to formulate comprehensive land-use positions … It now appears likely that the entire maze of land-use policy issues will hinge upon the ability of the State of Alaska to arrive at a consensus position regarding the (D-2) question and to forcefully take the initiative in demanding its right as guaranteed under provisions of Alaska’s Statehood Act.”

Regarding North Slope history, the book states, “Alaska’s history is much more than colorful stories of the gold rush, World War II battles or the fight for statehood as reflected in most Alaskan historiography. Native, Eskimo, and Aleut histories and historians present Alaskan history in a completely different perspective, and the desirability of such a view of Alaska’s past, collected from aboriginal sources, is essential to a fuller understanding of Alaska and its people and for a scholarly approach to historic preservation.”

In the chapter on “History and Historic Sites” we read, “It is perhaps not too much to suggest that the entire North Slope and Coastal Plain is, in fact, one huge historic district where man survived for thousands of years only because of his wise management of the land and natural resources. The significance of this expansive area does not alone rest in the physical remains to be found there, but in its continuing occupancy and use as an integral feature within an ancient context.”

The Beaufort Sea Study then gets down to the details of the historical inventory. After a description of the physical environment of the Beaufort Sea, the Arctic Coastal Plain, and the Arctic Foothills, the people who inhabit those areas are described, the Tareumiut, who dwell on the coast, and the Nunamiut, who live inland.

“The Arctic coast and North Slope region have produced artifacts and sites which indicate that ancient cultures inhabited this area as long ago as 12,000 years B.C. and perhaps as long ago as 30,000 years B.C.,” we are told, but most of our information takes us back to a time between 9,000 and 2,200 B.C. when “occupants of the coastal and adjacent areas were full time tundra hunting and coastal fishing peoples, dependent entirely upon what the land and the sea offered them.” And, “Because the western North Slope contains the few remaining portions of the Bering Sea Bridge that remain above water, the archaeological remains which may be found there are likely to be extremely important in reconstructing the history of early man.”

After the description of the Eskimo culture before the advent of the white man and the evidence of habitation all along the coast of the Arctic, the study relates the impact of early exploration, the whaling era (1850-1914), commercial fur exploits, and the impact of the missionaries and scientific explorations. The impact of this era was indeed catastrophic. Not only disease but also western commerce had decimated the people, leading one visitor to observe as late as 1953: “… there was a great deal of evidence of past habitation. House sites and camp sites, some only a few years old, were situated on almost every ideal hunting point. Refuse in abundance attested to the amount of former activity … only scattered camp debris and the walls of roofless houses remain as mute testimony of all this activity … where have all these people gone?”

There is a grave warning to the Inupiat people in these lines having to do with the “whale impact”: “When the market (for whales) collapsed, not only the whalers but the Eskimos suffered and they to a much greater extend. The Eskimos had been suddenly exposed, in only a few years, to a rich and dynamic economic windfall, which when it collapsed left them in an economic and cultural vacuum with no foundation or future.”

The chapter on “Subsistence and Subsistence Sites” first tries to define the whole concept of subsistence:

Popular opinion now holds that these villages are now in the process of disappearing. Recently available population data, however, suggests that contrary to this widely held notion, Alaska Native villages are neither disappearing nor depopulating. In fact the reverse may be true. This suggests that villages will not only remain for the indefinite future — but they will probably increase in size as well.

It is reasonable to assume that subsistence sites, and those things which may affect subsistence-related activities will continue to be an essential aspect of Native-Eskimo culture and well-being in the years to come. They are a reality which cannot be ignored by federal, state, local government or industry.

After describing the techniques of traditional Tareumiut and Nunamiut hunting and fishing, the book briefly describes the impact of Western culture, including the introduction of firearms. “These technological changes were exacerbated by some misguided missionary influences and outright commercial exploitation, and soon the ritual and community significance of the hunt had largely disappeared.”

The decline of whaling brought the trading of furs. The decline of trapping then brought the herding of reindeer. And, finally, the decline of the reindeer brought government programs aimed at “rehabilitating the Eskimos.” The study charges:

Although a great deal of legislation has been enacted at both the federal and state level since 1924 when Alaska Natives were granted American citizenship, a subtle and sometimes unrecognized cultural arrogance has made the task of finding an entry into this mainstream an elusive and altogether tragically discouraging proposition for the majority of Natives who have tried…

Furthermore, at the root of this contrast is the success federal and state programs and public attitudes have had in placing the northern Eskimo and other Native peoples in a cultural netherlands. This netherland is based upon concepts of “equality” which unfortunately ignore the fundamentally disadvantageous and unequal nature of the historical relationship between North American and Native Culture. Rather than extending real possibilities for assimilation into American society, government has chosen instead to throw out the sop of welfare and social programs; and to set Eskimos, Aleuts,and Indians apart by preferential treatment which only serves to exacerbate the problems of identity loss, depression, and self-degradation.

The book is filled with some 47 pages of maps and tables detailing traditional historic and subsistence sites, wildlife populations and migrations, and demographic and geographic information about the Slope. There are 15 pages of bibliography and copious critical references throughout the text. The book should be considered a primer, a handbook for all those concerned about development on Alaska’s Arctic coast. It will be a standard by which the encroaching wave of government reports on OCS development can be objectively valued.


Siberian Opens Contacts with Alaskans

Yuri Sergeevich Rytkheu, Chukchi and part Eskimo, is shown admiring a handmade Alaskan doll given to him by Eva Marie Heffle of the Association of Interior Eskimos at Fairbanks during his one month visit. The guest of the Chancellor of the University of Alaska, he is also visiting Nome, Gambell, Savoonga, Diomede, Wales, and Anchorage. Rytkheu was born in 1930 on East Cape, directly across from Alaska. He attended the Leningrad University, became involved in the development of Chukchi dictionaries and literature and became an author of international stature during the 1950s. He has written much on Native life in Siberia among the Chukchi and Eskimos of Chukotka. The vice president of the Soviet Workers’ Union, he lives in Leningrad with his wife and two sons, but maintains close relationships with the people of his Native villages. He was Farley Mowat’s host through Siberia, a trip that was the basis for Mowat’s book, The Siberians. He is interested in restoring relationships between the people of Alaska and Siberia who are closely related and who used to visit each other frequently. He has encouraged groups such as the Inuit Circumpolar Conference to make new approaches to the Siberian Eskimos, as, he said, “The climate for this is improving rapidly.” he held out promises of help for those organizing the Eskimo and Indian Olympics and the Inuit Circumpolar Conference. “Of course we would like to know what games you play,” he said. “We Russians come to win.”


Coastal Zone Management:
State CZM Regulations Being Circulated for Review

In December, the Alaska Coastal Management Council finished drafting the State’s first set of regulations governing CZM in Alaska, and hearings are being held around the State before they will be sent to the State Legislature for final approval. Standards of the Alaska Coastal Management Program, and Guidelines for District Coastal Management Programs, such as that of the NSB, are being reviewed by all agencies involved in Alaska’s CZM program. When finally approved, they will qualify the State to participate fully in the U.S. Department of Commerce’s national CZM programs through which State and local governments can exercise control over much of the Federal OCS program in Alaska. These regulations will be analyzed in the March, 1978 issue of the Arctic Coastal Zone Management Newsletter.