The village of Nuiqsut is 60 miles west of Prudhoe Bay in the North Slope, where oil and gas development has occurred for over 40 years.
Rosemary Ahtuangaruak, the former mayor of Nuiqsut describes the impacts the village has suffered as oil development expanded over the years.
"The first oil well was over 60 miles from the village," she explains, "That wasn't so bad. But then they wanted another well. They came to our village and told us one well would mean a 12-acre gravel pad, no road, 200 people to build the well, and 20 airplane and helicopter flights a month during our hunting season."
"That's not what we got. We got 400 acres of gravel pads, miles of pipelines, 12 miles of roads, a large runway, two helicopter pads, 1,200 people, and 1,900 flights in six weeks during the caribou migration."
The caribou changed their migratory route to avoid the commotion of development. Before the seismic tests and pipelines, 97 of 103 households in her village harvested caribou; after, only three.
Before the seismic tests in the ocean, village hunters - the whalers - harvested whales within 2 miles of the island; after, the whales moved 20 miles or more offshore. Twenty miles is too far from the village to safely harvest whales. When storms blew up, the whalers would have to stop hunting as small boats can easily swamp.
Rosemary's oldest son was nine when the caribou herds last migrated through the village. He is now twenty-four.
Subsistence - harvesting, sharing, and celebrating wild foods - is the primary means of survival in all of the villages. It is understood that loss of traditional foods and loss of the opportunity to harvest the food means loss of their way of life.
There are also health problems in Nuiqsut associated with the oil development. Rosemary is a former community health aide practitioner. She was the first to sound the alarm about the skyrocketing cases of asthma as the oil wells marched ever closer to Nuiqsut. The closest wells with their flaring gases and air pollution are now within four miles of - and almost surround - the village.
The refrain from the other villages is: "We don't want to happen here what happened in Nuiqsut!" But unless other Americans act to intervene, the Inupiat culture will almost surely be assimilated. Loss of resources fits the United Nations definition of cultural genocide.
There are further leases for oil and gas exploration for sale and other villages will be equally affected if development goes ahead on the same lines as in Prudhoe Bay. The U.S. Department of the Interior is accepting comments on the Beaufort and Chukchi Seas (Arctic Ocean) Oil & Gas Lease Sales until March 16, 2009.
Department of the Interior
1849 C Street, N.W.
Washington DC 20240
The above are excerpts from an article by Riki Ott, which can be found here.