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Excerpt from speech by Charles Edwardsen, Jr., (Etok) at US Congressional hearing on the environmental effects of the proposed oil pipeline across Alaska

Speech/excerpt from "Etok, A Story of Eskimo Power" by H.G. Gallagher, 1974, G.P. Putnam's Sons, NY pages 20 - 24

[Etok] struggled to get the words out, forcing them to come. The effort was so great that when finally they did come, they came without modulation, without control; so loud, so wild, they stunned the audience and the reporters to attention. He shouted: "The Eskimos-of the Arctic Slope-are opposed-to the building of the pipeline for the recovery of oil from our lands."

With this one sentence, Charlie set the Arctic Slope Inupiat in direct opposition to the organized Natives of Alaska and the overwhelming public opinion of Alaskan citizens. With this statement, he appeared to align the Arctic Slope Native Association, of which he was executive director, with the conservationists in the audience. They leaned back and smiled to each other: The Eskimos were with them.

They should not have smiled so soon.

Charlie went on: "The Eskimos own all of the North Slope, having lived there since time immemorial. . . . Both legally and morally it's wrong for Western civilization to move in on the North Slope and run roughshod over us. It is our land and we do not want the oil industry to destroy us."

It was not the pipeline Charlie was condemning-it was everyone in the audience, oilman, conservationist, and Congressman alike. "The Congress has neglected us for more than one hundred years and, if the oil development proceeds, we expect Congress will neglect us for another one hundred years.

"The Secretary of the Interior is supposed to be the guardian of the tribal rights of the natives of the United States. Yet never once has he consulted the Eskimos. Our land, on which we have hunted, trapped, and lived, has been taken from us and we have not been consulted. Our land, with fabulous mineral wealth, has ostensibly been given to the state and leased to the oil companies, and no one has notified the Eskimos. We are the forgotten people!"

Charlie's anger built, overcoming the stutter, silencing the audience, riveting their attention.

"The Department of the Interior's environmental study is childish and naive. We have a belief that the Department of the Interior does not even know that there are one hundred forty-seven different varieties of birds which nest on the North Slope by the millions. It is true that we do not have college degrees certifying our expertness on the flora and the fauna of the North Land, but our very ability to exist in the North Land is our college degree. And we have not been consulted by anyone.

"The draft report essentially contains no study of the impact of the pipeline on the human environment. Why is it that the Western civilization worries about things and does not worry about people? The whole thrust of the draft report is its impact on things."

The reporters were interested. Here were several hundred people in Washington debating whether or not to build a pipeline across Alaska. They were talking in terms of caribou and block valves and the survival of the peregrine falcon. They had left the human factor out of the equation entirely. The development of a major oil industry in the Arctic would change, perhaps finally and forever, the Eskimo life. The Eskimos had legitimate claims in the courts and in Congress to lands over which the pipeline would cross. Yet, where had they been consulted, who had asked them?

No one. Charlie went on. "We are not a part of any decision-making process. We are not a member of any of the various committees studying the problem. No one had the common courtesy to notify us of this hearing on the future of our lives and lands. Why were we not notified? Why do we have to rely upon the public press for information as to what is happening to our homeland six thousand miles away in Washington, D.C.?

"There is nothing in the study to protect the people should development drive away the animals upon which they depend for food. The United States was farsighted enough to protect its own skin if damage ensue by requiring the pipeline company to file a five-mill ion-dollar bond ... but if damage ensue, the Eskimo will be the one who is really hurt, and there is no bond for him. The only method Western society has for substituting such a loss is welfare. We don't like welfare .... "

With an intensity that no one in that room will forget, Charlie concluded, "This draft report is a product of massive ignorance, and it is the Arctic Slope Eskimos who will suffer and are the forgotten people. The Department of the Interior is composed of sophomores who control the destiny of these forgotten people."

One reporter who was present called the absolute stillness that followed Charlie's testimony "the silence of the shamed." The Interior Department examiner fumbled for questions.

"Mr. Edwardsen, you make reference to the long-term effect of pollution and go on to say the effects of pollution on the environment may be irreversible. If you could point us to some studies ... "

Edwardsen rounded on him. "I will be pleased to do this . . . I will be happy to talk about pollution. However, I would like to talk about a form of pollution that has continuously existed in the Department of the Interior ever since the Indians were first made the wards of the Secretary in 1849. The story of the American Indian under the care of the Secretary of the Interior has been one of conquest, paternalism, and greed. What the white man did in the last century to the Indians of the Plains he is doing today to the Eskimos of the Arctic Slope. He is doing it and there is no one willing to stop it. You ask for studies of environmental degradation. I point to one hundred years of total failure of the Department of the Interior to Alaska's Native people. Up in the North Slope there is not one legally patented land claim, and yet the department will let the oil be developed. Acting in our behalf it has sold miles of our gravel to the oil companies and we have not received one penny from this trustee relationship.

"I speak of pollution. If and when the birds of the Arctic die, who is the Secretary going to sue? The oil companies? Who is going to protect the Eskimos from starvation? We are a byproduct of internal apathy of the Department of the Interior, and as stewardships of our resources and as stewardships of the Indians, that department has flunked. It has failed, and we know that under the disguise of oil, the further degradation of American lives-of the Eskimos-will occur.

"What this hearing here is, is a mental facade. 'We had a public forum, therefore we are innocent now.' But until the Interior Department fully discloses all of the evidence, all of the communications of the oil companies and the state of Alaska, this pipeline cannot go through:"

His brown eyes burned with the intensity of his feeling; his voice was hypnotic in its power. Gathering his papers, Charlie strode out of the circle of TV lights. The audience was silent for one moment, for two, and then burst into spontaneous applause. They rose, in tribute to the honesty of this boy-man, and they applauded him with a standing ovation. But he did not see or hear them, for by then he was out of the hall, hands trembling, lighting a cigarette as best he could.

He was followed by the press-by the reporters, the photographers, and the TV interviewers. And there, in the hallway with no preparation he held his news conference.

"If I sell you the Brooklyn Bridge and you are so dumb you buy it, then I have your money but you do not have my bridge. The bridge belongs to whoever owns it and you are the victim of a gyp. The United States got gypped when it bought Alaska. That's all.

"My people are poor. The whites are rich. My people are sick from the white man's diseases; they are poorly fed and poorly corned in the winter. The federal employees at Barrow live in new houses with electricity and running water. Give us compensation for lands we have lost. Give us title to the lands we hold. We are not begging for charity!

"If the United States is prepared to buy the Arctic Slope or to rent it, the Eskimos are prepared to negotiate, to discuss terms." The flashbulbs popped, the hand-held cameras whirred, and more and more microphones were pushed in front of his face as he continued.

"How can the white man sell our land when they do not own it? How can they lease our land to the oil companies when they do not own it?" Working himself up into a dangerous paroxysm at the unfairness of it all, he shouted at the cameras: "If the pigs want to use our land, then THE PIGS MUST PAY THE RENT!"

He had to get out or explode. "That is all- I have to say." He pushed his way past the reporters and lights and microphone cables, out of the corridor, out of the building, into the street. Alone.