By Catholic Online (NEWS CONSORTIUM)
11/30/2012 (2 years ago)
Catholic Online (www.catholic.org)
The Inuit community of the coast of Alaska is North America's longest known inhabitants, with a lineage dating back to 800 B.C. Now, Shell Oil has finally been given permission to begin exploratory drilling there after decades of legal wrangling. The native people there view this development with dread, as they far it will cut off the delicate marine life that is their main source of food.
LOS ANGELES, CA (Catholic Online) - Fishing and hunting are central to the Inupiat way of life, in particular the Bowhead whale. "We are the oldest continuous inhabitants of North America," Point Hope's Mayor Steve Oomituk says. "We've been here thousands of years."
The small community of only 800 people fears that their food chain will be destroyed. Over 80 percent of the food eaten in Point Hope is caught by the people themselves.
They say that the exploration will disrupt the migration routes of the marine mammals, driving them away from the coastal waters. "Their proposed Arctic drilling is right in the path of the animals' migration routes," Oomituk says.
"We live in a cycle of life that hasn't changed for thousands of years. We know where the animals are coming. We know when they are going north, when they are going south, this is our home, our land, our identity as a people."
Oomituk recognizes the national need for an independent fuel source. A very poor community, jobs are also a major concern. While he says that many people would benefit from a new local employer, it would end a way of life here that has endured for thousands of years.
"You want jobs for the people, you want the economy to come up, but do you want to sacrifice your way of life to have that happen? To endanger a way of life that's been here for time immemorial?"
The ritual of the Inupiat is dictated by environmental concerns. They are only allowed to catch 10 bowhead whales a year and the first nine boats to harpoon the whale receive shares. The lead whaling crew divides the head between them. The butchered skull is then returned to the sea, whereupon the skull will "dress itself again" and become another whale. The flipper is then pickled and offered to the elders.
The U.S. Congress imposed a moratorium on offshore oil or gas drilling in 1981. A move to explore the nation's natural resources in order to provide an independent energy source has gained momentum over the last several years. Onetime vice-presidential hopeful Sarah Palin called for an end to the ban, with the slogan "Drill, baby, drill". President Barack Obama at one time opposed it, but once elected, he allowed drilling in some offshore areas, including the Chukchi and Beaufort seas north of Alaska.
"If they have jobs I will work for them no problem," one resident says. He adds that "If an oil rig spilled and made a mess of the ocean, how am I ever going to eat a whale that's not contaminated? Crude oil stays on the bottom of the ocean."
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