Why are Indians so poor? This link to an old Forbes article tells the tale. American Indians had a communal lifestyle, and don’t take easily to capitalism. Indian reservations are models of socialism. They’re a disgrace. But the Indian elders don’t want to change. They’d rather be dirt poor together, than prosperous apart.
The Indians of interior Alaska are Athabaskans, and many of them share the attitude of their Apache cousins in the lower 48. Everyone I ever knew in Alaska wanted all of Alaska’s Natives to avoid the fate of the tribes down south. But many interior Alaska villages are no better today than those awful reservations.
The Athabascans came to Alaska first, followed around three thousand years ago by the Yupik Eskimo and their cousins, the Aleut. Then, around 1,000 years ago, came the Inupiat Eskimo, a Thule people related to the far north Arctic Eskimo of Canada and Greenland.
The Yupik, especially, came into conflict with the Athabascans as they settled western and southwestern Alaska, and warfare on the boundary of the two peoples was common. They are two different cultures, and they very much want to stay that way.
The Inupiat, the Thule people who settled the North Slope, didn’t need to fight the Athabascans for the land, because there were no Athabascans there. It was too tough to make a living, so they stayed south of the Brooks Range except for an occasional summer hunt.
It turns out the Yupiks and Inupiats are more culturally flexible than the Athbascans. Eskimos seem to have a knack for capitalism. They are not content to live like reservation Indians.
They certainly have a knack for politics. They run the Bush Caucus in the Alaska Legislature, and will either put the Republicans or the Democrats in power, depending on circumstances. They’re flexible.
The idea of North Slope oil going to Japan is not a new one. When the choice of an all-Alaska pipeline route was made, rather than the more economical and logical route through Canada, it only made sense if the oil went west, to Japan. Shipping it east and south from Valdez to the lower 48 was expensive and unnecessary. But there was an Arab oil embargo going on at the time, and people were waiting hours to buy gas. Politically, shipping Alaska oil to Japan was impossible.
In 1987 the Alaska Legislature did a study on the impact of this export embargo, and found that it had already cost the state $15 billion. There was a glut of crude on the west coast, and supertankers from Valdez were offloading onto smaller tankers in Panama, which would go through the Canal and on to Houston. Some of it went all the way to the east coast. It made absolutely no sense.
As these tankers headed east through the Panama Canal, they met tankers full of Venezuelan oil heading west, to Japan. Ah, politics.
Somehow I’ve got to convince the Inupiat to tell their story to the rest of America. Very few people are aware of it. Unlike so many lower 48 Indians, they are making a successful adjustment to western civilization and the American way. They’re an inspiring people, with a colorful, Alaska story.
They need to tell the story of the real people of Alaska.