Senators' ANWR votes show respect for Inupiat
AS PRESIDENT of the Native Village of Kaktovik, a federally recognized tribe representing the aboriginal people of Kaktovik, Alaska, I must speak in defense of Sen. Daniel Akaka, who not only has taken the time to visit and speak with us but has been a dear friend to the Kaktovikmiut for many years.
I do this because of the unfounded and often vicious attacks on this great man by people who show no respect for him or for us or for you who have so wisely chosen him to serve you in the U.S. Senate.
My people have lived on the coast of Alaska for thousands of years. We are the only Alaska Natives residing within the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge and the only people who fruitfully use and fully occupy that portion of the refuge set aside, and for the past 20 years under discussion in the Congress, for petroleum exploration and development.
Akaka is one of a few members of Congress who have actually taken the time to listen and make the effort to understand this issue and our position on it. Our position is this: We can support oil drilling provided it is done right. To be done right, we, the people of Kaktovik, must be directly involved in the oversight of these activities.
This position is the consensus of our community, reached after much soul-searching talk, deliberation and prayer. Through all of these discussions we kept one thing in mind: These are our homelands; these are the lands that define our culture, that have long fed and still feed us to this very day. These lands of our ancestors and our grandchildren make us who we are.
Wherever they live, no one would ever want their homelands to be harmed by industrial activity. What is critical is having the authority and mechanism to prevent problems in the first place. It is a matter of respect. People in Louisiana, or California, or Hawaii, would not be very happy if we from Kaktovik tried to tell them what was best for them and how to do things. And we would never do that -- that's their country, they know it best, and we respect that.
We ask the same of you, that you respect us and our place here in these homelands of ours. Your senators, Akaka and Daniel Inouye, have done just that. They have come here, and they have listened to us. We commend you for sending such wise and responsible people to the U.S. Senate, people who understand our native ways and who understand that we can and will use our knowledge of our country to protect these homelands of ours.
Better than anyone else, we know how things work here and how they do not work. We know how to keep this country whole and healthy. We have been at it for thousands of years. If anyone agrees with us that it remains beautiful, perhaps they might take a moment to think how that happened, who was behind it, who has worked so hard for so long to see to it.
Akaka and Inouye understand also that we live in a world where everyone must depend to some degree on economic activity to sustain our communities and provide a viable future for our children. For us, this does not mean giving up being Inupiat or betraying the land that defines us; it means working with what you are given. We hunt caribou and bowhead whales because we are Inupiat, and it is the right thing for us to do to be healthy, to be who we are. But we are also part of a larger economy and cannot turn our backs on that reality.
We respect Senator Akaka for the time and effort he has put into studying the ANWR issue. We understand something about the criticism he has received, for we, too, have been criticized. Sometimes that is the price to pay when you do your own thinking.
Isaac Akootchook is a highly esteemed elder, retired whaling captain, pastor of the Kaktovik Presbyterian Church and president of the Native Village of Kaktovik, Alaska.