I am Kaktovikmiut, born and raised in Kaktovik, Alaska, in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge (ANWR). Generations of my ancestors have inhabited this land, surviving and thriving off the resources it provides us. The recent news that Global Affairs Canada is using our Native caribou subsistence resources to fight oil and gas drilling in my backyard is not only disappointing, it’s hypocritical and insulting to my community of Kaktovik that has been vocal in its support of ANWR exploration and development.
When looking at historic wintering areas for the Porcupine caribou herd, it varies widely but mostly occurs in Old Crow Flats, Kandik Basin and Eagle Plains in the Canadian Yukon. It’s interesting, then, that Global Affairs Canada hasn’t likewise rejected resource development activities in those areas of their own country to “conserve the Porcupine caribou herd’s habitat.” In fact, Canada has already drilled 59 oil and gas wells in the herd’s migration area. Here in Kaktovik, we have noticed that the herd’s movements have become more sporadic over the past several decades and we cannot always count on them spending time in our area.
These changes are reflected in Alaska Department of Fish and Game reports showing shifting calving trends (Porcupine Caribou News, summer 2017.) In the 2017 calving season, the herd calved from the Sadlerochit Mountains in Alaska to Babbage River in Canada, a range south and east of any likely development.
As far back as 2004 the Porcupine herd has not used the northwest section of the 1002 area for calving. Several studies focusing on the nature of the relationship between the Central Arctic caribou herd and infrastructure at the Prudhoe Bay oilfield west of the 1002 area show that “caribou frequently were more abundant than expected in the intervals close to infrastructure” (Cronin et al, 1997), and that survival rates of calves birthed near development did not differ significantly from survival rates of calves birthed away from infrastructure disturbances (Arthur and Del Vecchio, 2009).
In fact, the Central Arctic herd has grown exponentially over the four decades since Prudhoe Bay has been operational. We Iñupiat have been clear in our consultation with Alaska’s delegation in Washington, the Bureau of Land Management and the Department of Interior that protection of the Porcupine caribou herd and the ecosystem that has allowed us to thrive for generations is of critical importance. This has been at the forefront of all conversations regarding exploration and development in our homelands.
I am extremely dissatisfied with the announcement that the Canadian government — which has gained so much through the development of its own natural resources — chooses to oppose our right to do the same. Like the Gwich’in, we rely heavily on caribou as a resource to feed our families. Collectively, we need to shift our focus away from black and white extremes and towards finding a middle ground where drilling can be done in the most environmentally conscious way.
Glen Edwin Solomon