Polar bears in Kaktovik, an Inupiat village in Alaska. Photo: Arthur T. LaBar
Environment | National | Politics

Alaska Native leaders and executives testify on Arctic National Wildlife Refuge





Alaska Natives will be front and center at a Congressional hearing on energy development in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge.

Five Native leaders and executives are on the witness list for the hearing in Washington, D.C., on Thursday morning. They include representatives of the Inupiat and Gwich’in peoples, who have historically been on opposite sides of oil development in ANWR.

The Inupiat people support drilling because it would occur on their own lands. But since those lands are located within ANWR -- which was designated without their consent, before their aboriginal title was recognized by the United States -- it would take an act of Congress to allow development.

Matthew Rexford, the administrator for the Native Village of Kaktovik, a federally recognized tribe, is among those testifying at the hearing. Kaktovik is located on ANWR's North Slope, a prime area for development.

On the other side are the Gwich’in people, who oppose development out of fear it would destroy the caribou herds in ANWR that they depend on for subsistence. Some Gwich'in communities are located within the refuge while others are just across the boundary.

A map of Alaska North's Slope shows the "1002 Area" of the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge where oil development could occur. Native owned lands are shaded orange. Image: U.S. Geological Survey

Samuel Alexander, a representative of the Gwichyaa Zhee Gwich’in Tribal Government, is also on the witness list. The Gwich'in Steering Committee, which represents Gwich’in communities in Alaska and Canada, has been a leading voice against drilling in ANWR.

Two more Native witnesses represent Alaska Native corporations: Richard Glenn from Arctic Slope Regional Corporation and Aaron Schutt from Doyon, Ltd. Both corporations have supported drilling in ANWR.

Arctic Slope Regional Corporation owns the subsurface rights to land in ANWR where development could occur. The surface rights are owned by the Kaktovik Iñupiat Corporation, a village corporation.

The fifth Native witness is Byron Mallott, who is Tlingit and will be representing the state of Alaska as its Lieutenant Governor. The state has long pushed for development in ANWR.

The hearing takes place before the Senate Committee on Energy and Natural Resources. The panel is led by Sen. Lisa Murkowski (R-Alaska), who also serves on the Senate Committee on Indian Affairs and has made no secret of her position on energy development.

“We’ve provided [oil] to the country and that has allowed for jobs and revenues, it has allowed for schools and roads and institutions that everybody else around the country enjoys,” Murkowski told The New York Times. Unlike some of her fellow Republicans, though, she believes the federal government needs to address the effects of climate change, which has affected Native peoples across Alaska.

Read More on the Story:
An Alaska Senator Wants to Fight Climate Change and Drill for Oil, Too (The New York Times November 1, 2017)
The Energy 202: GOP lawmakers want more Alaska drilling. The Trump administration isn't waiting. (The Washington Post October 26, 2017)

Senate Committee on Energy and Natural Resources Notice:
Full Committee Hearing to Receive Testimony on the Potential for Oil and Gas Exploration in the 1002 Area (November 2, 2017)

Related Stories:
Trump administration moves to open Arctic National Wildlife Refuge to drilling (September 18, 2017)
Secretary Zinke plans to work with tribes on drilling push in Alaska (May 25, 2017)