22 OCT 1976
Speech Before the Alaska Federation of Natives Convention
The discovery of vast amounts of oil enabled us to win our Native land claims settlement in Alaska. There is a direct connection between the international Native land claims movement and oil, gas, and other resource development. All over the world, Native lands are being developed for their natural resources, and the land claims movement is the means through which all nations with indigenous people can accomplish badly needed resource development and deal justly with those of us owning the lands being developed.
When we organized the North Slope Borough as rural Alaska’s only regional home-rule government, we assumed the responsibility for regulating oil and gas development within our Arctic Slope Region. We have been actively involved in the planning leading to the exploration and development of Naval Petroleum Reserve No. 4, but we have been left out of any planning or policy development relating to off-shore development in the Beaufort Sea. We were very concerned about being ignored by the federal OCS program as they scheduled lease sales for the Beaufort Sea and the Chukchi Sea, off our Western coast south of Pt. Hope. For the North Slope Borough has the responsibility to protect the longest municipal coastline in the world. Our government must be concerned with the environmental protection of our coastline, as well as the waters off our coasts upon which we depend for our food chain.
In early 1975, I began hearing rumors about the conduct of the oil corporations in Canada as they explored the near-shore of the Beaufort Sea from gravel pads and ice islands in the shore-fast ice. Our Inupiat people of the Northwest territories complained of not being adequately consulted about these projects, and they began asking those of us in Barrow about our experiences with the oil industry.
Our Inupiat people of Canada organized the Inuit Tapirisat, the Eskimo Brotherhood of Canada, and over the past two years, they have organized in regional Inuit associations similar to our regional Native associations organized in the late 1960s.
Last year, we learned that the Canadian government and the Provincial Government of Quebec negotiated the James Bay agreement with the Northern Quebec Inuit Association.
Early last year, we decided that the circumpolar Inupiat community would have to organize across international borders if we were to work effectively together to protect our Arctic homeland from unsafe and irresponsible off-shore developments that were being permitted in Canada’s Northwest territories. So we began planning for the first Inuit Circumpolar Conference. I would like to acknowledge, today, the assistance of Senator Mike Gravel and Sam Kito in securing a foundation grant to finance the organization of this conference.
In preparing for this Conference, we began working with the leadership of the Greenland Homerule Movement much the same way as the AFN led the land claims movement in Alaska. The Greenlanders Association was responsible for much of the leadership that resulted in the Arctic People’s Conference in 1973 in Copenhagen, and the Indigenous People’s Conference in 1975 at Port Alberni, B.C.
We also began working with the Inuit Tapirisat, the Eskimo Brotherhood of Canada, the Northern Quebec Inuit Association, and the Committee for Original People’s Entitlement (COPE) of Inuvik, Northwest territories. In Inuit Tapirisat is negotiating the Northwest Territorial Inupiat land claims settlement, and COPE is the most active of the regional associations in the Northwest Territorial claims movement. The Northern Quebec Inuit Association successfully negotiated the James Bay land claims settlement agreement last year with the governments of Canada and Quebec.
All of these organizations are active in the land claims movement because of the trespass on their land by mining, oil and gas, and other resource developers. Because aboriginal land rights have not evolved in the Danish and Canadian courts and politics to the point that it has in the United States, our people in the Northwest territories and Greenland face the possibility of having their rich oil and mineral resources exploited from their land before their land claims are settled. And, all along the Arctic coast, we face the possibility of severe environmental damage due to risky off-shore exploration in the ice environment of the outer arctic shelf. Over the past two years, the Danish government leased the southwest Greenlandic shelf to oil corporations without consulting with our people in Greenland. Of the 50,000 people in Greenland, 40,000 are Inupiat.
The Greenlander’s Association feels that the Danish Government is stringing out home rule negotiations until 1979 to give the Danish government time to lease the Greenlandic Shelf to the oil industry before home rule in Greenland could interfere. In the meantime, the Danish government is ignoring our people in its OCS program, just as we are being ignored by the Canadian government and our own federal government.
In March of this year, the North Slope Borough hosted a pre-conference for the Inuit Circumpolar Conference. Willie Hensley, Billy Neakok, and I flew to Tuktoyaktuk, NWT, to attend the annual assembly of the Inuit Tapirisat, and we flew back with the leadership of all the Canadian and Greenlandic organizations that we had been working with, 14 people in all. Frank Degnan flew to Barrow for the meeting and addressed our Canadian and Greenlandic guests in all the Eskimo dialects along the Arctic coast from Bethel, Alaska to Sisimiut, Greenland. He said that there were five Arctic nations and that it was time for us to organize the sixth Arctic nation, and, thus, we joined the Alaska Native land claims movement with that of Canada and Greenland.
In Barrow, we resolved to hold the first Inuit Circumpolar Conference in November 1976, and we appointed an organizing committee of which I was elected Chairman. We developed an agenda for the Conference that included circumpolar resource development, language agreements, educational exchange, land claims progress, circumpolar communications development, transportation, and village health and sanitation.
During our pre-conference, we confirmed that the circumpolar Inupiat community was bound together after all these years all across the Arctic by common language and kinship, and we all felt that we could deal with our common problems through the strength of our common community living under four flags.
We were assisted during our pre-conference planning by Ambassador John Norton Moore, former Chief of the U.S. Delegation to the United Nations’ law of the Sea Conference, of which Senator Gravel is a member. Senator Gravel arranged for Ambassador Moore to consult with us in Barrow about the Law of the Sea negotiations and how circumpolar regional community administration of the Law of the Sea of the Arctic.
The pre-conference planning session in Barrow was very exciting because it made it clear to us that we really could organize our Inupiat community across national boundaries and become a viable international Inupiat land claims organization able to deal with the international oil industry and our national governments to draft a single set of rules for all Arctic Shelf resource development. With a single set of rules to which to hold our oil corporations, we Inupiat can monitor off-shore development to insure safe and responsible development. We Inupiat feel that we must have the last word about what constitutes safe and responsible Arctic Shelf oil and gas operations. For we are the experts on the ice and we can help prevent the oil industry from making costly mistakes that will damage our Arctic homeland and delay the badly needed development of our Arctic Shelf oil and gas reserves in both the United States and Canada.
But as long as the oil industry is allowed to operate according to individual Arctic national rules and regulations, and as long as the oil industry can reach over our circumpolar community to negotiate directly with our national governments for Arctic Shelf drilling permits and differing environmental safeguards, none of us can rest easy.
This became very clear in April when Sam Raddi and his people of COPE called to ask me to write to the Canadian Minister of External Affairs to inquire how permitting Beaufort Sea OCS operations squared with the provisions and intent of Canada’s Arctic Waters Pollution Prevention Act, passed by the Canadian Parliament in reaction to the voyage of the SS Manhattan through the Northwest Passage in 1970. The preamble to this legislation stated that it was passed to protect Canada’s Native people and their land. Yet, within five years, the Canadian government was preparing to permit an OCS drilling shop operation to conduct Beaufort Sea OCS operations off the Tuktoyaktuk Peninsula in the Mackenzie Bay, just upstream and across the border from our North Slope Borough Beaufort Sea coast.
I wrote to Senator Stevens in this matter. Ted is a member of a joint American/Canadian inter-parliamentary committee, and is familiar with our foreign policy and relations toward Canada. Recently I released to the press Senator Stevens’ letter of June 23 to Secretary Kissinger in which he reveals that our “Environmental Protection Agency has concluded that substantial risk of trans-boundary oil pollution exists” as a result of the oil industry’s Canadian Beaufort OCS operations. And, Senator Stevens ended his letter by being very supportive of our desires for a single set of rules for all Arctic Shelf oil and gas operators to follow. Ted Stevens said that he encouraged Secretary Kissinger “to initiate discussions with the Canadian Government on an Arctic Seabed Treaty so that future developments in the Arctic Ocean will involve adequate protection of American interests.”
The day Senator Stevens wrote that letter, I was in Seattle attending a little-publicized Beaufort Sea Conference, a meeting of American and Canadian government scientists involved in Beaufort Sea oil and gas development impact assessment. I learned that the Canadian Department of the Environment had recently ended a five-year Beaufort Sea Project that was funded in concert with the oil and gas industry. The result of their investigations was Environment Canada’s recommendation that the Canadian Cabinet not give final approval to the Dome Petroleum Beaufort Sea OCS exploration project for reasons of extreme environmental risk and underdeveloped ice environment technology.
The Canadian scientists were bitter about their experience. They said that their recommendations were being ignored, and that the government would give final approval because of the politics of oil in Canada. Both our American scientists and their Canadian colleagues assured me that the oil industry is just plainly not ready to explore or extract oil from the outer continental shelf of the Beaufort Sea, and that the Dome Petroleum Project was a dangerous experiment.
Last Monday, Congressman Don Young stated over the radio in Nome that he supported the Dome Petroleum Project in the Canadian Beaufort; that he thought that there was nothing wrong with Canada’s Beaufort Sea OCS program to worry us; and that “mid-winter undersea drilling has been conducted previously under the Arctic ice pack,” and that there was nothing new about all this.
I don’t think that Congressman Young knowingly lied when he said that the oil industry had previously conducted oil exploration on the Arctic seabed under the ice pack. He was just reacting to oil industrial propaganda, or probably some oil corporation employee misinformed him or one of his staff.
The message I want to leave with you today is that the land claims movement is tightly connected to our responsibility to guard and protect our land, and that our land and our people are threatened by the Outer Continental Shelf program, both in Canada and Alaska.
Homerule in Yakutat, Kodiak, and the North Slope borough has meant that we can do something about the OCS program, for the land claims movement has given us the political and economic strength to determine for ourselves the terms under which we will allow OCS exploration and development in Alaska.
I foresee the land claims movement as tracing the developing doctrine of aboriginal and rights, rights that extend to the heart of our relationship with the land. We enjoy the aboriginal rights of stewardship over our land. But this stewardship can be exercised only through strong community organization. Homerule brings the political strength we need. Yakutat and the North Slope borough are home rule communities that are able to negotiate the terms of acceptable OCS impact upon their communities, and the AFN should help other regions and villages to found our example.
I feel that the Alaska Federation of Natives should get involved with all aspects of coastal zone management, including the OCS program. I feel that the AFN should deal directly with the oil industry, and that the industry organize itself to accept responsibility for negotiating safe and responsible standards for all aspects of OCS exploration and development, including acceptable socio-economic community impact. The AFN needs to pioneer in this direction for the same reasons that it pioneered in regional health, education, and communications programs. Now, I feel that regional resource development management, particularly coastal zone resource management, is a new area for badly needed community organization and development, and this will become an important aspect of the AFN’s land claims leadership for the future.
Lastly, I feel that we Native people of Alaska have a responsibility now to help our people in Canada and Greenland with their land claims struggle. Just as several of us were able to get the Yakima people to finance our early AFN land claims efforts, I feel that we should lend a financial hand to our people in Canada and Greenland. This will build a real bond between us, and help strengthen our ultimate circumpolar coastal zone management responsibilities. Extending our help will help overcome the distance that our national boundaries have created between the Arctic people of North America. Soon, all of our villages and our people will be bound by reliable satellite communications.
I feel we will be working closer with our people in Canada and Greenland for good mutual advantage and sound Arctic resource management. If it is true that aboriginal land rights is a continually developing doctrine, it means that improvements made in Canadian and Greenlandic land claims settlements will eventually be won for us here in Alaska. The result of all this will be to win for us Native people greater jurisdiction over our land, our private land, and our public land. We need strong circumpolar solidarity if we are to be able to negotiate effectively with the international oil industry, and with the bankers that finance Arctic oil operations. We must be able to deal with the top management of these industries if we are to achieve sound circumpolar coastal zone resource management.
Thank you for inviting me to speak before you today in the company of these other distinguished speakers this morning. The past few months have been difficult for me and my family and friends, but I have been sustained by many prayers and many kind thoughts and kind words. We are fighting a good cause. We will prevail. Thank you all very much.