Defending the Sacred in Alaska is protecting the Commons

Aerial photo taken of Gwich’in Gathering 2015 participants @Florian Schulz & Peter Mather

Alaska’s lands and waters are under assault by natural gas, oil, and mining interests and therefore, the livelihoods of Alaskans are being jeopardized.

We expect very soon to hear an announcement from the Trump Administration that they will overturn bans on offshore oil drilling in the Arctic and Eastern Seaboard (bans were egregiously overlooked for the Gulf of Mexico where the fight to defend the sacred continues) and now the oil industry intends to do fracking on the North Slope of Alaska. This would be disastrous given the outrageous amounts of our water that will be used for such operations and the associated risks of contaminating water and cause of earthquakes in the region.

In the Cook Inlet we continue to have a three month on-going natural gas leak into critical habitat for endangered Beluga whales and other wildlife — this is mostly methane in the amounts of 210–310 cubic feet daily that will potentially create a dead zone in our waters. And the same oil company, Hilcorp, has also reported an oil leak from an underwater pipeline also in the region.

Senators Murkowski, Sullivan, Young, and Governor Walker are all chomping at the bit to see more oil development, including opening the coastal plain of the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge — the birthing and calving grounds of the Porcupine Caribou Herd up to oil development. This is the only remaining portion of the entire North Slope not open to development — the remaining 5%. It is also the main source of sustenance for the Gwich’in Nation that stretches between Northeastern Alaska and into Canada. In Gwich’in we call it ‘Iizhik gwats’an gwandaii goodlit’ or the ‘Sacred Place Where Life Begins’.

Along our border with Canada, ten transboundary large-scale mining operations are threatening our clean water and fisheries. Pebble mine in Bristol Bay, the Road to Ambler, the Arctic Refuge, the Arctic Oceans, to name a few areas that are being threatened — all of them are a part of the commons — places that do not belong to any human being but that provide us with the sources of life we all need to survive and ensure the rights of salmon, caribou, and a myriad of wildlife to continue to thrive. We cannot let corporations come into Alaska and privatize what we all hold in common.

We need to have hope and optimism though for there is a growing grassroots movement made up of Alaskans that are making the connections to how these issues all tie together. These Alaskans understand that we are on the front lines of negative climate change impacts and that if we don’t work towards a just transition off fossil fuels we are threatening the ability for our children and all future generations to enjoy the splendors we have been blessed with in our Arctic home.

This movement is grounded in caring and love for one another. It respects the cultural diversity, diversity in religions, and gender equality. It honors the Alaska Native Peoples of this land and seeks greater respect and understanding of the devastating impacts the colonialist nature of capitalist expansion has on the well-being of us all. The innovations, the solutions, the change in lifestyle that must happen are all housed in the heart and spirits of Alaskans young and old, of all backgrounds. We are the remedy to a failing patriarchal colonialist economy that is crumbling at our feet.

Murkowski, while addressing the Legislature earlier this year said that she needs to see Alaskans united on these issues of development. Well, fellow Defenders of the Sacred, let us unite against the further destruction of our land and waters. Our voices matter. When the calls were coming in against confirmation of the under-qualified Secretary of Education Betsy Devos, to Sen. Murkowski’s office they complained of all the ‘outside’ calls coming in but they were certainly paying attention to our Alaskan voices (Lisa could have voted no to advance her nomination in committee, instead she made a political play and voted no when it went to the full Senate). And when a delegation of 14 Fairbanksans made their way to Juneau to push Representatives to vote NO on House Joint Resolution 5 to open the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge to oil development, 4 Representatives in the House voted NO and 2 Senators voted NO. That has never happened before on a resolution that usually passes quietly through with little objection. We are changing the narrative.

We come from a whale state, a salmon state, a caribou state, a state that still has some pristine waters and we must keep it that way for future generations. It is our duty. It’s up to us.

Motivated to take action?

One thing you can do immediately — call your local representatives and speak to them on these issues — I’ve provided some links to articles and more in depth info in underlined sections.

We need better and more diverse representation on boards and in public office. Continue to vote and talk to others about the importance of voting and running for office.

You can sign the petition to protect the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge here:

Connect with others via social media and in person in your local community to organize for direct action. Attend that rally (there are a few tomorrow to support Drew Phoenix to our Human Rights Commission), write that op-ed, talk to your neighbors and volunteer! Mahsi’ choo shalak naii for taking care of the land and waters and peoples of Alaska!

If you like this story please click ❤ and share to elevate these issues — also I welcome any comments/thoughts/suggestions!