Friday, May 27, 2016


Originally Published At In 2003

Natives, Senators and Oil
 - The Connection Between Drilling In The
 Arctic National Wildlife Refuge And The Akaka Bill.

By Anne Keala Kelly

Part Two -

The Alaska Connection

In July of 2001, more than a year before the Council hosted its first convention for Hawaiians, it held the "1st Annual Native Hawaiian-Alaska Native Summit," funded by major Hawai'i banks that hold hundreds of millions of Hawaiian trust dollars. Bank of Hawai'i, First Hawaiian Bank, American Savings Bank and others put up the money for an invitation-only gathering with the stated purpose of discussing management of native trusts, foundations and service agencies. The CEO of the Council, Robin Danner, had proven her ability to gain the cooperation of influential politicians and financial institutions in a very short time, pulling together some of the most distinguished members of Congress from both sides of the aisle. 

Keynote speakers included Senators Inouye and Akaka; other speakers were then Senator, now Governor of Alaska, Frank Murkowski, Representatives Patsy Mink and Neil Abercrombie, Alaska Representative Don Young, and a videotaped message from Alaska Senator Ted Stevens. Senator Stevens, who as pro tempore is third in line to the presidency of the United States, has put his name to the Hawaiian Federal Recognition Bill, which was re-dubbed the Akaka-Stevens Bill in June of this year. 

Although Hawaiians are not organized into villages and corporations like the 138 Alaska Native villages and 13 Alaska Native Corporations that comprise the Alaska Federation of Natives, the network of Hawaiian nonprofits now in the Council for Native Hawaiian Advancement could be said to be a close imitation. But the Council is either intentionally or unwittingly also mimicking the federation's interest in Alaskan oil money and federal control.

The Gwich'in, 
The Inupiat, The Oil

Inupiat-owned Arctic Slope Regional Corporation owns five million acres of land, including the Alpine oil field, which is the 10th largest-producing oil field in America. A map of the North Slope shows that millions of acres surrounding the Refuge are dotted by oil-producing fields.
Thus far, all drilling has taken place outside of the 5% of the Arctic Coastal Plain known as the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge, which is where the Porcupine Caribou birthing grounds, sacred to the Gwich'in people, are located. It's estimated that the oil inside the Refuge will take 10 years to deliver and is only enough to sustain U.S. oil consumption for 6 months.

So, why are the state of Alaska, Arctic Slope Regional Corporation, and multi-national oil corporations lobbying the Congress to grant access for drilling the Refuge? And how did drilling inside a national "Refuge" ever become an option?

Settling Native Claims

The 1971 Alaska Native Claims Settlement Act, referred to as ANCSA, is considered by many organizations of indigenous peoples in and outside of the U.S. to be the worst native settlement in modern times. It is also one of the most amended Congressional Acts in the history of the United States. When oil corporations and the State of Alaska realized the substantial wealth and jobs that could be generated from drilling in Prudhoe Bay and the surrounding area, the push was on for a claims settlement. Throughout Alaska, in exchange for extinguishing native title to 90% of their lands, tribes were given what amounted to less than $3 per acre.

In the face of the less-than-generous terms of ANCSA, the Inupiat Eskimos are among a few tribes that have been financially successful strategists. They formed the Arctic Slope Regional Corporation, and it has paid off. With a rate of growth ahead of the S&P 500 index, last year's revenues through oil and other subsidiaries were about $1.5 billion. Among their many subsidiary corporations is one that maintains a contract with the U.S. to supply fuel to the military, another that provides support services for U.S. military radar systems, a company that operates a plastics manufacturer in Guadalajara, and an office in Venezuela that analyzes that country's oil industry. 
But ANCSA was not attractive to all of Alaska's Native tribes, and some communities were split; there were no hearings or votes taken at the villages. Of the 8 Gwich'in villages on the U.S. side of the border, 2 villages opted out of ANCSA and maintained a traditional subsistence life and title to their lands. Like many Federally Recognized tribes, the Gwich'in have a tenuous relationship with the U.S. government.

The Inupiat, on the other hand, have a corporate relationship with the state and federal government. In 1983, Department of Interior Secretary James Watt signed a controversial land exchange with the Arctic Slope Regional Corporation that brought the total acreage of the corporation's contingent subsurface rights in the coastal plain of the Refuge to 92,000. 
In spite of the stipulation prohibiting development (unless Congress opens the Refuge) the corporation has already made $39 million from speculative lease agreements with Chevron, Texaco, and British Petroleum. In fact, within five years of the 1983 land exchange, efforts were begun in earnest to open the Refuge to drilling. But the Gwich'in people, who live on the south and east border of the Refuge, have put up resistance to every proposal put before Congress and have maintained a grassroots struggle because of the threat to the Porcupine Caribou.
The Inupiat, who own the Arctic Slope Regional Corporation, are a coastal people who rely mainly on marine life for their traditional foods; the Porcupine Caribou account for about 10 percent of their diet. But for the Gwich'in, who strategically established their villages along the migratory paths of the Porcupine Caribou herd during the past several thousand years, the caribou are 70 percent of their food. Faith Gemmill, spokesperson for the Gwich'in, said, "The caribou are our family. We made a commitment to protect the caribou and our way of life, and if we are not successful we will perish, too."

Other animals that birth and den in the Refuge include grizzly bears, polar bears, and many different species of birds.

The Hawaiian Connection

Before anything can be done to settle Hawaiian claims, it appears that Hawaiians must accept the moniker of being a federally recognized tribe to insure the plenary powers of the U.S. Congress over them as a people. One section of the Akaka Bill allows for a "Hawaiian governing entity" to enter into negotiations with the federal government to settle Native Hawaiian land claims, as was done to/with the Alaska Natives. Plans for a settlement are already being put forth by the Office of Hawaiian Affairs, who together with another state agency, Department of Hawaiian Homelands and the Council for Native Hawaiian Advancement appear eager to set themselves up as representatives of the Hawaiian people. But the Council has the power at this point because they can lobby for the legislation freely. Whereas, despite the numerous trips Office of Hawaiian Affairs trustees have made to D.C. to lobby for the bill, state agencies must at least appear to represent the interests of all residents of Hawai'i. 

The motivation for financial support from the Inupiat-owned Arctic Slope Regional Corporation to the Council, though, has come into focus due to a business arrangement between a company called Danner and Associates and an Alaska non-profit group called Arctic Power. Arctic Power is funded by the state of Alaska, oil industry corporations, including Exxon Mobil, and unions with interests in Alaska's oil industry, including the Teamsters. The relationship between Danner and Associates and Arctic Power dates back at least to February 2002. 

When asked about her role in Danner and Associates, Council for Native Hawaiian Advancement CEO, Robin Danner, described it as one of several Danner family initiatives. She then declined a telephone or in-person interview, and stated in an email: "I don't have an ownership interest in it [Danner and Associates], I don't manage it, I've never been paid by it, I've never done any work for it - I can't really tell you much more than that." 

The Conclusion Tomorrow...