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Tuesday, March 24, 2015

Oil or no oil? An opinion from an Inupiaq that gets money from oil....

This is  popular topic in today's news, the debate on whether or not to drill in the Alaskan Arctic for oil....everyone is commenting on it and pitching in their two cents.  Politicians, Tribal leaders, corporation heads, environmentalists, even locals that have taken the fight to D.C.....but you don't always hear from the general local Native public.  An average shareholder for instance.

I have no idea if I'm an average shareholder.  

I think the reason many of the shareholders don't speak out is because they fear that by speaking out they are somehow betraying their corporation.  That to say anything opposite of what their leaders say is bad manners.  Because the corp is doing so much to help them.  But they fail to see that our original leaders were the FIRST people to do that, to speak against or at least question the status quo, and that this trait...of questioning and thinking about our the MOST treasured attribute.  As it insures that balance is continually being sought in a world that is constantly adjusting and changing.  The world changes stay the same is to insure your society fails and to die a horrible death.  Any history class will teach you that. 

So I offer my two cents.

I happen to be on the side that favors not drilling in the arctic at all.  I advocate that the Inupiat should be left to live a life not threatened by politics or national greed.  Mostly because I lived in the lower 48 for 7 years and it left me treasuring what we have up here.  The silence.  The opportunity to explore and travel for days without seeing another human soul.  The richness that is all the fauna.  Unique Flora.  The timelessness of a land carpeted in life.  The struggle to make an old culture exist in a modern world.  Oil continuously threatens that world.  It is a gamble...the same type an alcoholic takes every time he takes a swig...that this time it will hopefully not end in disaster.  And the more the addict takes the chance and allows more opportunities for it to happen...the more disaster looms. 

Some leaders that say they represent our people have still pushed forward to drill in the arctic, when obviously a lot of us disagree.  They state that we as a people need the funds from the oil to survive.  And this statement makes me worried.  Many people don't realize that we have had this mountain of oil money for over 40 years.  That the money flowed and poured onto the slope for more than a generation.  And I can't help wondering what it has done to us as a whole. As a people.  Has is actually helped us survive?  What does that even mean?

I can't help but think what the original board of our corp was hoping for.  To preserve our culture? To make us independent?  To help us when we need help? What exactly is the PURPOSE of this money?  How do we measure if it is doing what it is supposed to?

There are a lot of unhappy people on the Slope.  After the money came in everyone marveled at the new toilets, the high tech housing, the expensive roads.  But then it all started breaking down and wearing out.  And now people are angry that they can't afford to maintain these buildings and toilets and roads.  The money left our people with the inability to care for our own infrastructure, mainly because no one thought to create self sufficient systems in the villages...that are independent of the oil money.  And I think...this could have been foreseen.  It could have been planned for.  At the very least homeowners can have the access to knowledge on how to fix what goes wrong.  But what has happened is that the Borough instead have fostered the idea that we can't take care of anything...and in fact shouldn't take care of our own....which leaves many people angry and helpless. When I moved to the lower 48 I was amazed to find that if you are a homeowner you take care and repair you own home.  And there is even home insurance.  Because here on slope they have created people that don't think that way at all. 

There are also lot of children that suffer the consequences of that oil money also.  At this point it is even a generation deep.   Children services and law enforcement become busy right after the big checks come out. Children are taken away and their names are written in  ink on the state list.  We all know of families torn apart by the flood of some parents choose to lose themselves in a drunken haze.  I have always wondered what the numbers are.  Someone stated once that in our area, there are 1,600 Alaska Native children in the system.  I wonder how many ended up there as a result of the flush of Christmas money.  And if that number was only one child....wouldn't that still be too many? Of course it is common enough that there are always some that make bad choices...but I find it disheartening...abhorrent even..... that no one has ever been concerned enough to find out what the damage may be...and develope strageties to minimize this negative effect.  Allow for options. 

Options.  I think that providing options for this money would prove that the oil gangsters do really have the people and our health and longevity in mind.  At this time there is no options. At all.  They slip us a check a few times a year like it's hush money. 

If we want to invest it in our children's future...we have to do it ourselves.  Sounds easy but there are a few things working against us.  For one, there are no actual banks here.  Well there is ONE bank in the largest village.  So we are not even the least bit familiar with the banking system, let alone how to maintain a savings account.  Two, the corp says the money is to help offset the cost of living in the arctic, so the money is almost immediately spent on bills.  So there is none left over for the college funds.  So either way you go into debt.  Three, they always point out that there is a scholarship monies that they provide.  Which is funny because despite the HUGE increase in the cost of going to college since I left hischool in 1995, they have never once raised the amount of the scholarship monies they provide. In fact they even reduced it for a few years.  To top it off as a shareholder you cannot qualify for federal or state educational monies because you have shares in a company that makes so much money.  I am still bitter from the memory of my hard earned California state scholarship being quickly taken away after one semester to 'be given to those who actually needed it" once they found out I was a shareholder.   I am lucky that my own parents penny pinched and saved some of my checks...which is rarer than you would think.  
Even the jobs the oil creates are pretty sparse for those that actually live here on slope. For one thing you have to have a high school education or more (which is getting sadly harder to obtain), and most of the time you have to travel and leave your family for long periods of time.  This separation is not something our people have real experience with and it can be very hard on relationships with such tight nit communities that rely on family ties.  Most shareholders that do have these jobs have them temporarily and usually do not live in the rural villages and instead find it easier to live in the cities down south.   Surprisingly small amounts of money actually make it into the villages, with even local work being contracted by out of state workers that are qualified to take the jobs.  Because locals are unable or don't have the opportunity to get the education needed to take these jobs.  So the oil jobs work only really to funnel money out of state. 

I have worked hard to get to the point that I do not need the oil money to survive.  I have gotten an education or two (which landed me heavily in debt!) so that when the checks roll in I can think about where it should go. I can invest in our child's future.  My Business.  I can pause and find options.  But it took a lot of work on my end.  Pure stubbornness really.  Especially since our own Corporation has in many ways worked against me.  To work against my independence.  Not just with my education but in my mentality.  And I can see how it is working against the independence of our people.  Because of you really think about it, if our corporation was really fighting for our people and not just temporary funds, then we as a people after 40 years would be more independent and developed by our company to be self sustainable...instead of being hampered.  And a lot of times bitter.   

In the last few years the Corporation has begun some programs to try and correct the influence the money is having on the our people but I wonder if it's too little too late.  The attempts and opportunities provided  are often met with disdain and distrust.  Hesitation.  Because we now live in a society where most don't really expect to work very hard for money.  Just borrow till the next shareholder check.  Maybe sell a kids check to get buy for less then it's worth.  The mentality of privilege created by a seemingly endless fountain of oil money.  And our leaders telling us that this mentality is normal and okay.  So what are these politicians and representative really fighting for?  It is obviously not the Slope greatest asset ...our amazing brilliant people.  Our amazing brilliant culture.  And all it would take is one bad....even semi-bad....oil spill to completely mark our end. 

I hope people think about what the impact of this money is having on our people beyond just getting a new snow machine.  Or paying off that credit card you maxed out on a Hawaiian vacation.  And I hope people that are not shareholders can look at our People and see that we...eventually...did amazing things as a result.  Lasting things.  Inspired things.

I ask this....What are we BUILDING?