- Mar 2017
oil and gas exploration in and around the Beaufort Sea concerns the people who live there, because they depend on the fish, seals, whales and polar bears for which the Beaufort Sea is vital habitat.
As the ecological impact of the region is considered, it is worthy to note the group consciousness that the Alaskan natives experienced with regards to this risk. The heightened awareness of this ecological impact on the region became evident in the political activism and energy behind these local communities in the decade leading up to the project proposal. With the expanding presence of oil and gas extractive companies in the Northern Yukon and surrounding territories, a strong negative externality was exerted onto “fur-bearing creatures” and the resulting trapping lifestyle of the indigenous communities. Furthermore, the integrity of the region’s permafrost became comprised with the widespread and often times ill-measured construction of roads and conduct of industrial activity. Finally, the studied biodiversity of the Arctic region indicated that the ecosystem proved to be particularly vulnerable to the impacts of manmade industrial activity. These elements of vulnerability and danger to the Arctic region contributed to the notion that its ecosystem had become decidedly “disturbed” by the impacts of industrial development. This collective experience of a disturbed ecosystem led to the emergence of political activist groups such as Inupiat Paitot (or the “peoples heritage”), a political organization with the mission to serve all Alaskan natives against the external pressures of the oil and gas industries. As the development of a group consciousness among Alaskan natives grew, and subsequent grassroots organizations began to take on the political cause in the Arctic, national and international efforts to confront environmental science were simultaneously becoming a formalized and mainstream effort within into policy-making and industrial project consideration. Upon the initial arrival of the Mackenzie Valley Pipeline Inquiry in 1974, the stage was set for a grassroots movement against the project. In defense of an ecosystem at severe risk of damage, Alaskan natives now possessed the political and social capital necessary to bring about a concerted effort to preserve the region’s resources as well as the self-determination of indigenous communities.
Stuhl, Andrew. Unfreezing The Arctic: Science, Colonialism, and the Transformation of Inuit Lands. Chicago, IL: The University of Chicago Press, 2016.