By far the wealthiest tribe in North America are the Inupiat of Alaska’s North Slope. They are the American equivalent of Saudi royalty. Like the Saudis, their barely habitable land sits atop oceans of oil.
But their wealth isn’t only in oil. Their Arctic Slope Regional Corporation is run well, and profitably. It employs close to 4,000 people, and has paid $915 million in dividends. It is an enterprise with many facets, most of them quite profitable. The Inupiat are good businessmen, and capitalists. They know the responsible development of the resources beneath their land, carried out under their watchful eyes, is good for the people.
To their south are the Gwich’in, an Athabascan tribe with a different attitude. The small Gwich’in community of Arctic Village, population 152, is located just to the south of the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge. They, like most of Alaska’s rural Natives, are among the poorest of all Americans.
These Indians oppose the Inupiat in their desire to develop ANWR. The only actual inhabitants of ANWR are the Inupiats of Kaktovik, on the coast. But the Gwich’in claim that the migrating caribou on whom they depend would be harmed by the use of Section 1002 of ANWR, a claim which has no basis in fact.
When the Trans Alaska Pipeline was proposed, the opposition centered on the caribou. The migrating herds in the areas crossed by the pipeline would be harmed, somehow. It didn’t happen. The caribou have thrived. The pipeline is warm in the winter, and sometimes they congregate around it.
But the Gwich’in are always Exhibit A in the campaigns to oppose any development of any part of ANWR. The environmental community loves these Indians. They are poor, and wish to stay that way. They live as reservation Indians, just like the Indians on the reservations throughout the western United States.
The environmental community lost the last election, and their most ardent foe sits in the White House. If he wished, he could say that the development of Section 1002 of ANWR was in the national security interest of the United States, and was a national priority. The oil from ANWR seals the deal with Japan. They will be our closest ally as long as the oil flows.
The President would have to choose between the Inupiat and the Gwich’in, wealth or poverty. It’s an easy choice.