Alaska Natives join Lawsuit over Chukchi Oil Lease Sale

Jack Schaefer, Native Village of Point Hope, 907-368-2235
Steve Oomittuk, City of Point Hope, 907-368-2537
George Edwardson, ICAS, 907-852-3746
Faith Gemmill, Redoil, 907-750-0188

Native Groups Sue MMS Over Chukchi Sea Lease Sale
Elders Resolution Prompts Region-wide Lawsuit

Point Hope, AK – Today the Native Village of Point Hope, the City of Point Hope, the Inupiat Community of the Arctic Slope (ICAS), and the Resisting Environmental Destruction on Indigenous Lands (REDOIL) Network filed a lawsuit to fight the Chukchi Sea Lease Sale 193. Minerals Management Service (MMS) plans to hold the lease sale on February 6, 2008.

The Point Hope Elders Advisory Council, the traditional Inupiat leaders of the Native Village of Point Hope, a federally recognized tribal government, recently passed a resolution supporting a legal challenge to prevent offshore oil and gas activities in the Chukchi Sea.

“We support a legal challenge to MMS for holding Lease Sale 193 and we encourage others to follow us. As the traditional leaders of Point Hope, we ask all Inupiaq people to join us in our opposition to leasing the Chukchi Sea to oil and gas exploration and development. Help us protect our garden and the way of life we all share,” said David U. Stone, Sr., President of the Point Hope Elders Advisory Council.
The City of Point Hope, the municipal government for the community established in 1966, has joined the lawsuit.
“The people of TIKIGAQ [traditional name for the people of Point Hope] have hunted and depended on the animals that migrate through the Chukchi Sea for thousands of years. This is our garden, our identity, our livelihood,” said Steve Oomittuk, Point Hope City Mayor. Without it we would not be who we are today. Even at this present day and time the animals from these waters shelter, clothe, and feed us. We would be greatly impacted if anything happened to our ocean and the animals that migrate through the Chukchi Sea. We oppose any activity that will endanger our way of life and the animals that we greatly depend on,” said Oomittuk.
The approximately 30 million acres of the Outer Continental Shelf (OCS) Chukchi Sea 193 lease area include core habitat for polar bear and Pacific walrus, and encompasses the migration route of the bowhead whale, which the Inupiaq people of the North Slope have subsisted on for thousands of years.
North Slope residents are frustrated that MMS has ignored their concerns through government to government consultation and other public meetings. They believe litigation is the only choice still available to them to avoid oil and gas leasing in the Chukchi Sea and hopes other Inupiat will also file suit.
“The Inupiat Community of the Arctic Slope is the regional tribal government for eight villages on the North Slope. We have a responsibility to our people to stand up against threats to our whaling culture and to protect our way of life. An oil spill in the Chukchi Sea could devastate the bowhead whale migration and other animals we have subsisted on for thousands of years. MMS continues to ignore our concerns. The elders have spoken and told us to fight this and we will do so through this lawsuit,” said George Edwardson, President of the Inupiat Community of the Arctic Slope (ICAS).
The REDOIL Network is an Alaska Native grassroots organization with members of the Inupiat, Yupik, Aleut, Tlingit, Gwich’in, Eyak and Dena’ina Athabascan tribes, that resists unsustainable fossil fuel development.
“The REDOIL Network has joined in the lawsuit to support the Inupiat and their subsistence rights which are threatened by proposed offshore development in the Chukchi Sea. The Inupiat right to continue their way of life as they have for generations should be upheld in this decision instead of being compromised for multi-national oil company profits” said Faith Gemmill, REDOIL Campaign Organizer.
“We’ve hunted and fished in the ocean since time immemorial. We have always believed that we own the ocean and that it is our garden. We can’t afford to stop our religious, cultural and subsistence activities that depend on the ocean. The ocean is what our history and upon which our culture are based,” said Jack Schaefer, President of the Native Village of Point Hope.
The Alaska Native organizations are being represented by Earthjustice, a nonprofit environmental law firm in Juneau, Alaska. Several conservation groups have joined the Alaska Natives in their lawsuit.

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