Currently — March 24th, 2023
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Alaska Natives are left worrying about how they’ll hunt, fish, and make traditional foods amid the Biden administration approving the Willow project, a decades-long drilling venture, a week ago.
The Iñupiaq community of Nuiqsut, which is in the center of Alaska’s North Slope, will be at the frontlines of the project’s devastating effects, including pollution and sea ice melt, disrupting much of the wildlife—for example, caribou and fish—that Native communities rely on for sustenance.
According to reporting by Grist, about three-quarters of Nuiqsut residents mostly eat food harvested from the wild. But over time, living off the land has grown more difficult, as oil wells, pipelines, and other developments like the Willow project, continue to pop up on the village’s land.
Martha Itta, a former tribal administrator of Nuiqsut, is fearful she won’t be able to afford food for herself and her family as the Willow project unfolds since she largely depends on hunting and fishing amid the rising prices of groceries.
“I’m upset [Willow] went through,” Itta told Grist. “They are slowly depleting our subsistence. I myself am a hunter and fisherman, all year long. And it’s still not enough. I’m a single mother, and the store costs are way too high. Sometimes I can’t afford to go to the store.”
Nuiqsut’s elected leaders are also not too hopeful about the Willow project’s impending effects.
“We have gone through process after process, and the agency is always designing new mitigation, but the facts about what has happened to us and our land over this period are indisputable: the infrastructure has surrounded us, the caribou have left our traditional hunting grounds, and our mental and physical health has deteriorated,” local officials said in a letter sent earlier this month.
Sam Kunaknana, who has long fished and hunted along Fish Creek, a river that flows near the Nuiqsut doesn’t believe the government will do much to protect the fish and caribou during this project either. In fact, these last few years, he’s noticed fewer caribou close to town and less fish swimming into his net.
“I was born into this subsistence way of life. I rely on this food,” Kunaknana told Grist. “We’re just slowly being dissected away. Our culture is being dissected away.”
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