Don't Make Indigenous People Pay the Willow Price

Don’t Make Indigenous People Pay the Willow Price

For Indigenous Peoples, defending our rights to clean air and water, continuing to live off the land, and protecting the sanctity of Mother Earth is the fight of our lives. Sadly, communities like mine continue to be ignored at every turn and left to fend for themselves as the devastating effects of our current energy policies destroy our way of life.

That’s exactly what’s happening now as President Biden races to approve ConocoPhillips’ Willow project in Alaska, a stone’s throw from his home. The Biden administration is pushing ahead with a massive oil and gas project that is a looming climate catastrophe while refusing to listen to the voices of my constituents and my community, who will bear the burden of this project with our health and our lives. livelihoods.

Make no mistake, Willow will be the largest new oil extraction project on federal lands and will cause irreversible damage to the sensitive Arctic landscape. The proposed development will include the construction of up to 250 oil wells, 37 miles of gravel roads, 386 miles of pipelines, airstrips and processing facilities.

My hometown of Nuiqsut is the closest town to the proposed Willow project, and we have the most to lose. Our people feed their families with traditional subsistence activities like fishing and hunting caribou, moose, birds and more. The Willow Project’s massive infrastructure would bulldoze directly through these crucial habitats, redirecting the animal’s migratory pathways, driving them away from nearby villages and endangering the food security of local populations. Not to mention the damage from exposure to air and water pollution that we face.

Recent studies have shown that the Arctic is warming four times faster than the rest of the world. As oil is exported and sent around the world, our Arctic communities must contend with the health effects of pollution as well as the devastation that results from dramatic changes to the lands we live on, such as melting sea ice, thawing permafrost and coastal erosion. Approving additional oil and gas projects in the Arctic will only compound the threats to our way of life.

Our communities deserved to have their say. In Nuiqsut, we urged the Department of the Interior (DOI) to time the public comment portion of the additional environmental review process for the project around our hunting season and subsistence activities, knowing that many those who oppose or are concerned about the project would be absent. at the hunting camp.

There is no time to read documents, submit comments or organize in opposition when our people are at the hunting camp. Not hunting for sustenance is not an option – the food our communities are harvesting now will help us get through the winter.

The Home Secretary – who is herself an indigenous person – knows these things. And for a moment, it seemed like his department was, too. Unfortunately, after feigning concern and promising to extend the comment period until September, the department went back on its word and cut the shortest comment period allowed by law at the worst possible time for the region. This all happened after the draft supplemental environmental impact statement was released on a summer Friday night, which is what the government does when it wants to hide bad news.

It’s time for the Biden administration to wake up and see Project Willow for what it is: a choice between transitioning to a greener future while protecting all communities or prolonging our insurmountable reliance on fossil fuels while by perpetrating yet another serious injustice against Indigenous communities. If the administration chooses the wrong spur, our families will struggle to put food on the table. We will have to leave behind our history and our culture. And Indigenous peoples will continue to suffer and die from respiratory diseases at a disproportionate rate.

From food security and chronic disease to physical and mental health to culture and traditions, there is a lot at stake for Nuiqsut and our neighbours. It is high time that we – and indigenous peoples around the world – had a say in our energy policy.

Rosemary Ahtuangaruak is the mayor of Nuiqsut, Alaska.

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