Alaskan tribes call for protection of coastal waters

by George Pletnikoff

November 18, 2013

In the northernmost reaches of the United States, in this case, Alaska, the federal government and oil companies are deciding how to extract publicly-owned oil and gas reserves, while communities on the front lines – whose nutrition and cultural survival hang in the balance – are being systematically denied a seat at the table and a voice in the proceedings. In an effort to bring this to the attention of the public, several members of the Alaska Inter-Tribal Council (AITC) attending a hearing in Anchorage to protest the systematic exclusion of the indigenous peoples facing these threats to our foods and our cultural survival.

In a recent letter to Gina McCarthy, Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), Robert J. Papp Jr., United States Coast Guard (USCG), and Janet Napolitano, Secretary, Homeland Secretary (HS), AITC requested to be seated and heard by the Change Oil Spill Global Alliance to the Alaska Regional Response Team (ARRT).

These agencies of the United States Government are responsible for the protections of our nations waterways, and the regulations affecting the Clean Water Act of 1972. To date, AITC has not been offered a response to their demands. The US Federal agencies operating in Alaska have a statutory trust obligation and duty to protect and preserve the health and well being of the peoples of Alaska and the natural environment, and especially for protecting customary, modern and traditional, cultural resources of the Tribes which are sovereign nations.

Tribal governments throughout Alaska hold these agencies accountable for fulfilling this trust and are obligated to take action on behalf of their peoples to enforce this trust responsibility to ensure food and economic security. The cultural subsistence economy and commercial economies of the fisheries are vital to national food security interests as well as global food security. The unique historical and political relationship between tribal governments and the federal government is well articulated in Federal Statutes, Presidential Executive Orders designating inclusion of Tribal natural resource rights as a sacred obligation of the Federal Government.

The Tribal Governments of Alaska request the withdrawal of any form of pre-authorization of chemical dispersants in Alaskan Response Plans. Chemical dispersants adversely and disproportionately threaten subsistence use making this issue subject to federal laws and policies to protect our traditional and cultural, ancient and historic subsistence resources. Chemical dispersants should be replaced by non-toxic technologies approved by the Sovereign Tribes on the lands and waters we have navigated, used and relied on for centuries.

Tribal Governments throughout Alaska are invoking the Federal Trust Duties and Obligations and demand that corrective action be taken immediately: 1) Withdraw any form of pre-authorization of chemical dispersants in Alaskan Response Plans; and 2) Concede to the restoration of ARRT voting member seats to duly authorized representatives appointed by Federally Recognized Tribes in Alaska.

Any help and support by sending letters to the above mentioned federal representatives and agencies from our membership would be much appreciated.

Gina McCarthy

Environmental Protection Agency

1200 Pennsylvania Avenue, N.W.

Washington, DC 20460

Robert J. Papp Jr. Commandant

United States Coast Guard Headquarters

2100 2ndStreet SW STOP 7238

Washington, DC 20593-7238

Janet Napolitano

Secretary, Homeland Security

300 7th St SW

Washington, DC 20024

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