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USA: Native Americans Speak Against Arctic Refuge Drilling Plans

by Alex CarreraUnited Press International
February 12th, 2002

WASHINGTON -- A coalition of native-American groups is lobbying the Senate to ban oil drilling on the Alaska National Wildlife Reserve, saying it threatens the way of life of local residents.

The plea from the National Congress of American Indians, supported by the Indigenous Environmental Network and others, comes just days before Congress is expected to look at energy legislation.

In an open letter to Senate leaders, Tex Hall, president of the NCAI, said the oil drilling issue is not only one of wildlife protection."This is a human-rights issue vital to protecting the traditional culture of the Gwich'in people," he said. The Gwich'in, a nomadic Athabascan tribe, rely on the Porcupine Caribou herd not only for food, and clothing, but regard it as the central focus of their culture.

"The need for oil development must be balanced with the need to protect native cultures and delicate ecosystems," said Hall, and the focus should be on economic development for the native tribes.

The letter was released at a news conference Tuesday.

Yvette L. Hill, representing the Wilderness Society at the news conference, said oil drilling would have drastic effects on wildlife as well as inhabitants.

"It will interfere with the polar bear's den," Hill said, as well as disrupt the breeding grounds of the caribou herds. The inhabitants will also lose their primary source of food, the caribou, which consists of 90 percent of their diet, he said.

Tom Goldtooth, national director of the Indigenous Environmental Network, called the oil drilling industry "very deceitful" and said they fear state governments are "giving in to the lobbying pressures of industries and corporations."

He called any attempts to drill for oil in the wilderness an "act of colonial terrorism ... against a people that just want to be left alone. "Goldtooth said they are seeking support of the American public and the world "to stop this axis of evil -- oil industries and governments who work together expanding their oil frontier, destroying forests, wetlands, coastal plains" and even causing climate change and global warming.

Critics say oil available under the wildlife reserve is minimal, barely enough to supply U.S. needs for six months, and would do nothing to ease fuel prices or the U.S. dependence on foreign oil.

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