DECOLONIZING YOUR NEWSFEED
Wearing an Iñupiaq parka, Interior Secretary Deb Haaland poses for a photo beneath a whale bone arch with North Slope Borough Mayor
Harry Bower, Jr. (left) and Alaska State Rep. Josiah Patkotak (right) in the City of Utqiaġvik, formerly Barrow, Alaska, on Friday, which was also the nationally observed holiday, Earth Day. D.J. Fauske/ Facebook
The morning that Interior Secretary Deb Haaland boarded a chartered plane for Utqiaġvik, Iñupiat hunters from the North Arctic village were celebrating a whale strike - their eighth one in as many days, and remarkably at the start of a new harvest. It was Earth Day, and
the open waters of the Beaufort and Chukchi seas had been melting off sea ice at a rapid pace. "The animals naturally knew it better than us," said a marine biologist who had been emailing with me about the correlation of warmer waters and the migration of the whales.
In honor of Earth Week, this week, Secretary Haaland toured the State of Alaska, a place that's heating up nearly three times as fast as anywhere else. With stops in
the Aleutian Islands, the Kenai Peninsula, Anchorage, Fairbanks, and the North Slope, she met with Indigenous advocates, interior officials, policy makers, and state politicians. In Utqiaġvik, formerly Barrow, she was greeted by some of the wealthiest Alaskans, oil-rich Iñupiats who posed for a photo standing beneath a whale bone arch as she clutched the ruff of her
parka. The Arctic Slope Regional Corporation which owns the mineral rights in the region, wants the Biden administration to lift restrictions to drill for more
oil on their ancestral lands, the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge and the National Petroleum Reserve
The tour was originally slated to take place last fall until a Covid-19 surge in Alaska postponed these plans. What was unusual about Haaland criss-crossing the state was the absence of her friend and colleague, Don Young. The 88-year-old Congressman died a last month, a year
after giving a rare endorsement of Haaland at the start of her confirmation hearing before the Senate Energy Committee.
But in the two press conferences she gave, Haaland didn't mention Young once, and reporters were limited to asking only one question each time, though I think all of us had at least twenty questions on our minds. Unlike other Alaska tours taken by federal officials, including Interior
Secretary Sally Jewel and President Obama, both in 2015- the DOI offered the press limited access to the people and places that crossed Haaland's path.
"It's no secret that we've been under a number of lawsuits," said Haaland in describing the delicate balance the Biden administration and the interior department says it is striving to
scale in managing its energy policies on public lands. This includes promoting a conservation agenda while at the same time advancing fossil fuel projects across the country.
Since taking office, President Biden has worked to meet his environmental and energy agendas while building bipartisan cooperation. But critics
say it's fallen short. For instance, he shut down the Keystone XL pipeline though declined to do the same with Minnesota’s Line 3 replacement line, a nearly identical project. He also promised to ban new leases for oil and gas on public lands, but his interior department announced a new plan on Monday to auction nearly 144,000 acres of public land for new oil and gas leases across at least seven states.
Activists protesting on Earth Day nationwide held signs complaining that any fossil fuel activity by the Biden administration undermines any hope to combat
350 Seattle and hundreds of climate activists tell Biden: "COME ON, MAN, END FOSSIL FUELS"
Fossil Free Media
Land defenders aren't the only ones outspoken about the Biden administration's energy record, so far. The Alaska Congressional
Delegation and Gov. Mike Dunleavy have criticized decisions of the president and the interior secretary to reverse Trump-era policies promoting energy development and infrastructure projects.
Gov. Dunleavy followed Haaland to King Cove, Alaska in what some viewed as an awkward meeting given the caustic rancor he has spewed over social media and in the press to bash Biden and
Haaland, including alleging the administration is waging a "war on Alaska".
Another lawmaker, Republican Sen. Lisa Murkowski flew to King Cove as well, but in the company of Haaland. The bipartisan relationship they share has been building for years, way before Haaland was ever considered a contender to lead the interior department. Murkowski, a
longtime member and current vice-chairwoman of the Senate Committee on Indian Affairs has supported causes such as "Missing and Murdered" legislation sponsored by Haaland. Before casting the lone republican vote which sealed Haaland's confirmation by the Senate Energy Committee, last year, Murkowski met twice with Haaland to discuss issues that have long-been at the heart of her political career. The three-decades long King Cove effort to build a 12-mile gravel extension road through the protected Izembek National Wildlife Refuge was, and continues to be chief among her talking points.
Another Alaska lawmaker, U.S. Senator Dan Sullivan met briefly with Haaland in Anchorage upon interior's release of approximately 27 million acres of Bureau of Land Management property to open up as allotments for Alaska Native Vietnam-era veterans. Ahead of these developments, Sullivan told the Alaska Legislature on Tuesday that he would have regrets for supporting Haaland's confirmation if she failed to support this unique land transfer.
More than half of Alaska's massive 365-million acres fall under federal control - some 6o percent - and mostly under the DOI. This includes roughly 70 million acres serviced by the Bureau of Land Management and another 77 million by the Fish and Wildlife Service. Meanwhile,
an additional 44 million acres of federal lands were conveyed to Alaska Native Corporations or ANCs through the Alaska Native Claims Settlement Act in 1971.
Secretary of the Interior, Deb Haaland (Laguna) with Bernadette Dementioff (Gwichyaa Zhee Gwich’in) of the Gwich'in Steering Committee in Anchorage,
Tuesday. B. Dmentioff / Facebook
Bernadette Dementioff is executive director of the Gwich'in Steering Committee based in Fairbanks, the Indigenous nonprofit group most vocal in
opposing drilling in the ANWR. She was invited to meet with Haaland, along with several others, in Anchorage midweek. Despite her campaign to stall ANWR drilling indefinitely, Dementioff is less quick to criticize Haaland's helming at the interior, even when such leadership may counter her climate activism at times.
"I understand that her position now is different from when she was a representative and I respect that," said Dementioff who knew Haaland before she started leading the interior; when she was a more progressive activist against fossil fuels. "You know, we get overlooked and dismissed by our
own elected leadership all the time. And so it made me happy that [the DOI] acknowledged us and invited us to speak with her."
"This goes back decades and decades, right?" said Haaland in discussing the issues that surfaced over the course of her tour. "Tribes [in Alaska] weren't consulted for many decisions that
were made in the past. So, we really want to make sure that we are talking to tribes and giving them a seat at the table early on before decisions are made."
In honor of Earth Week, I posted some links on our Twitter feed to make the most of the observance:
- In preparation for COP26, I curated a Twitter list of Indigenous land defenders and water protectors that's been gaining a small but significant following, lately. Check it
- Browse the Indigenously Bookshelf for some good green reads like Melissa K. Nelson's take on traditional
eco-knowledge or TEK
- And finally, there's also this piece I published in collaboration with The Nome Nugget about the rise of LNG Export interests in response to the melting Arctic and conflict in Ukraine
Looking ahead, I've been collecting interviews linked to one of the most wild political races of the election year, the race for Don Young's open congressional seat. Frontrunner Sarah Palin has already received the endorsement of Donald Trump. I had the chance to
interview Palin over the weekend while she was in Fairbanks for the Alaska GOP Convention. The pictures of her glittery MAGA handbag are still seared in my memory. We talked about natural resource extraction, the beauty of Alaska, and her favorite subject - the media. Can't wait to share more.
In kindness 🌎,
Number of communities, parks, and villages Secretary of the Interior Deb Haaland visited on her Earth Week tour of Alaska: 6
Approximate mileage of a proposed "life-saving" road through a national wildlife refuge that King Cove residents want Haaland
to approve: 12
Total deaths King Cove residents attribute to poor, rural air-travel for medical emergencies: 19
Number of Unangax̂ names bestowed on politicians, including Secretary
Estimated acreage the DOI announced it will auction for new oil and gas leases on public lands on the eve of Haaland's trip: 144K
Percentage reduction of acreage that had previously been nominated for leasing, according to the BLM: 80%
Total acreage of the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge (ANWR) which Haaland experienced by aerial tour: 19.3M
Approximate ANWR acreage at stake for ownership in a pending lawsuit between Alaska and the BLM: 20K
Number of bowhead whales struck in 2022 by Utqiaġvik hunters, including on the morning of Haaland's visit: 8
All across the Bering Sea, Iñupiaq and Yup'ik whalers are camped out on the ice right now for the annual subsistence harvest of the bowhead whale. It's an Indigenous tradition as old as time though routinely threatened the more that the Arctic has become colonized.
The biggest blow to bowhead whaling came in 1977, when the International Whaling Commission, in an effort to curb commercial hunting of the sea mammal, banned the practice for everyone, including Inupiaq and Yup'ik whalers-and without their consent. This stunned the Native hunters. So, that year, they formed the Alaska Eskimo Whaling Commission (AEWC) which led to the restoration of the harvest and an ongoing relationship with the IWC, including some of the earliest sharing of traditional knowledge to help advance ocean stewardship for the well-being of the whales.
According to the AEWC, it is the only Alaska Native organization that works with offshore oil and gas developers to monitor the marine ecosystems of the Beaufort and Chukchi Seas. They also host a mini-convention each year, gift an annual scholarship, and lead a weapons improvement program for whaling villages. But like any advocacy, it costs money.
The AEWC keeps their fundraising incredibly humble - it literally requires picking up the phone to learn how to make a donation. (Another reason I adore this group.) 🐋
"I.F. Stone’s Newsweekly made me feel so smart and tuned in. Now I’m seventy and reading Indigenously makes me feel the same way."
Rick, New York, NY
I was deeply touched by the emails I received from so many of you, including Rick's, following last week's newsletter where
I laid bare a bit about my philosophy as an Indigenous journalist covering Indigenous affairs. I'm humbled to have your readership and will give a special shout out to all of you upon accepting my Izzy Award this week in honor of the pathbreaking work of the late I.F. "Izzy" Stone. You are welcome to tune in if you want. Details here.
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