End of Shell gas exploration in Alaska could hurt indigenous economy, communities

Karim-Aly Saleh Kassam, professor of environmental and indigenous studies, says the end of Shell in Alaska will have implications for indigenous communities because they will have access to fewer jobs and potential revenues, however, in the long term, it may be in their best interests.


Kassam says:

“The implications for indigenous communities are far more significant and double-edged. Unlike most Americans, in the third millennium, hunting and fishing continue to be central to the food systems of the Inupiaq who live on the North Slope of Alaska. Marine mammals hunted in the coastal waters and on sea-ice in the Chukchi Sea continue to provide valuable nutrition and sustain the cultural integrity of these communities.

“In the short term, the effect of ceasing exploration will have a negative impact on Native American communities, especially the Inupiaq because they will have access to fewer jobs and potential revenues. However, in the long term, given the thoughtful nature of these Native communities, it is quite conceivable that Inupiaq themselves will engage in oil and gas activities to power their vehicles and heat their schools and homes. This type of an approach to exploration and investment can be far more sustainable economically and ecologically because the Inupiaq have a very clear and fundamental interest in protecting their habitat, it is the source of their food.

“The Inupiaq have financed their resource management strategy and sustainable hunting practices with revenues and jobs from the oil and gas industry. Historically, by forcing the Inupiaq to settle in towns, build infrastructure such as medical clinics, schools, churches, and houses, the Federal government has effectively made them dependent on the market economy. However, there is a dearth of investments in the Arctic which makes Native American communities dependent on renewable and non-renewable resource industries mostly run by companies from the south or from outside of the United States.

“Their food system is already under threat from dramatic variation in weather and melting of sea-ice. Ceasing exploration gives the Inupiaq an opportunity to design a local solution to the multiple challenges of energy, food, and environmental crises. Indigenous communities around the world and policy makers are watching them, if they get it ‘right’ others will emulate.”


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