Oil age Eskimos are different from pre-oil age Eskimos but not that different. Like their predecessors, indeed, like themselves twenty years ago, oil age Eskimos are hunters, fishers, and gatherers. They have "subsistence life-styles" in which the bulk of their diet is extracted from their environment.
The oil age for Eskimos is very recent; it has not even spanned a single generation. Aided and abetted by the Alaska Native Claims Settlement Act of 1971 (ANCSA), which extinguished native claims to land, water, and naturally occurring, renewable resources in Alaska, multinational corporations swooped onto Prudhoe Bay on the coast of the Beaufort Sea in northeastern Alaska. Oil wells were drilled, oil pipelines and holding tanks were constructed, and oil was pumped. The oil reserves (and presumed reserves) became the property of the federal government (offshore) and the state government (onshore). Each established agencies to lease the tracts that were presumed to contain oil.
Oil-related developments had many unintended consequences for Alaska's natives. Many who had resided in urban areas throughout the United States, pursuing educations or occupations, returned to their natal villages as the ANCSA's provisions began to be implemented. And many others, who otherwise would have migrated from their natal villages for elementary and secondary educations, benefited from the construction and staffing of schools in their own villages and therefore stayed at home. Village populations have grown rapidly, then, by natural increase and by return migration. When Congress enacted ANCSA, it was presumed that whereas Eskimo villages would prosper from the creation of native corporations, still they would not experience much growth, and educated Eskimos would continue to migrate to urban areas through self-selection.
Eskimo villages have not created successful, for-profit corporations, nor have Eskimos gained more than token employment in oil-related occupations. Rather, the villages have become deeply dependent on federal and state income transfers to supply cash, jobs, services, and welfare. Eskimo villages are resilient places, however, and natives have successfully integrated public sector dependencies with subsistence life-styles. This is an analysis of three modern Alaskan Eskimo villages and an account of how they came to be as they are today.
By law, the agencies charged with leasing federal resources must assess the probable impacts on the environment from the exploration and extraction of oil before tracts can be leased to oil companies and before exploration can commence. The writing. of Oil Age Eskimos has been made possible by environmental legislation, specifically, the National Environmental Policy Act of 1970 (NEPA). The data on which it is based were collected in field research in the western Alaskan villages of Unalakleet (Norton Sound) and Gambell (St. Lawrence Island, Bering Sea) and the north Alaskan village of Wainwright (Chukchi Sea). The studies were contracted by the Department of the Interior (originally the Bureau of Land Management, subsequently the Minerals Management Service) so that, as leasing agent for outer continental shelf oil, it could prepare environmental impact statements for Norton Sound, the Chukchi and Bering seas, and the Navarin Basin. Thus, the requirements of environmental legislation would be satisfied and leasing (and drilling) could proceed in those places.
This work is not an environmental impact statement, nor are any of the reports on which this comparative study is based. The Minerals Management Service, Alaska Outer Continental Shelf Region, Department of the Interior, awarded to the John Muir Institute, Napa, California, and to me, as principal investigator, Contracts AA851-CTI-59 and 14-12-001-29024 to conduct research in three villages and to base several technical reports on this research. Those reports provide the basis for several environmental impact statements that the Minerals Management Service must prepare. They also provide the basis for this book, which also was supported by Contract 14-12-001-29024.
On completion in 1983 of the comparative research on the relations among the harvests of naturally occurring, renewable resources, private and public economic forces, and contemporary Eskimo village life, my colleagues and I spent a couple of years analyzing the data and on occasionsâsome opportunistic, some serendipitous, some fortuitousâmade return trips to the villages.
In 1986, about six months after I had completed the second draft of this book, I, as principal investigator, was awarded a second contract from the Minerals Management Service to create and validate a social indicators system by studying thirty-one Eskimo villages over the 1987-1990 period. The three villages analyzed hereâGambell, Wainwright, and Unalakleetâ are in the social indicators study sample. Return visits to these villages in 1987, 1988, and 1989 on the social indicators project have allowed me to analyze recent changes and current conditions within the village. This analysis appears in the epilogue. It is important because of the consequences to Eskimos from the downturn in international oil prices and the ever-decreasing federal programs and public transfers of the Reagan administration to Native Americans. It is also important because in 1988, ANCSA was amended to rectify some of its worst provisions. It is too early to assess the consequences of the changes to ANCSA. It is also too early to assess the effects of the Bush administration on Alaska's Natives.
In the fieldwork conducted in 1982, some of which spilled over into 1983, Harry Luton served as field investigator and Charles F. Cortese as senior investigator in the village of Wainwright. The major report on the village is Luton's Effects of Renewable Resource Harvest Disruptions on Socioeconomic and Sociocultural Systems: Chukchi Sea (1985). As is true for the major reports for Unalakleet and Gambell as well, only a limited portion of the detail pertinent to Wainwright is employed in this comparative analysis. Interested readers are referred to Technical Report Number 91, available from the Minerals Management Service, Alaska OCS Region, 949 East 36th Avenue, Room 110, Anchorage, AL 99508-4302.
Lynn A. Robbins, as field investigator, and Ronald L. Little, as senior investigator, conducted the research in the village of Gambell. The major report for that village is Little and Robbins, Effects of Renewable Resource Harvest Disruptions on Socioeconomic and Sociocultural Systems: St. Lawrence Island (1984). Jean A. Maxwell, as field investigator, and I, as principal investigator, are responsible for the field research and major report on Unalakleet: Jorgensen and Maxwell, Effects of Renewable Resource Harvest Disruptions on Socioeconomic and Sociocultural Systems: Norton Sound (1984).
We learned how significant subsistence ways of life are to the natives in the three villages before we were allowed to conduct even the tiniest amount of research within any village. At the same time, and of a piece with the way in which villagers regard their life-style, we learned how threatening oil developments are to them. We were struck by the importance of hunting, fishing, and gathering in contemporary native households. In all of the villages, a majority of the diet is obtained from naturally occurring resources. I developed three rather huge appendixes for this volume presenting and analyzing the data on environmental resources and the ways in which they are harvested, processed, stored, and used. But such information appears to be more for specialists than general readers, even knowledgeable social scientists. Because the information on harvests of natural resources is so extensive, I refer interested readers to the original reports cited above. Oil developments threaten the native resource base, and the villagers know it.
We also learned that, unlike migrants from rural America, Eskimos who have left their natal villages to acquire educations, pursue occupations, or both, can and do return to their villages and resume subsistence life-styles. They do go home again. Indeed, they have returned homeâor decided not to venture from their natal villagesâin large part because federal legislation (such as the Alaska Native Claims Settlement Act) and income transfers from oil tax revenues have made it possible to do so.
Yet the oil age has not stimulated healthy, growing economies in any of the three villages. It has not even provided employment in the oil industry for more than a handful of natives. Rather, as in the rural western United States, the energy industry has created boom growth, but the jobs have gone to outsiders, and profits have been drained from the region. Infrastructure to service the industry and government has been developed; populations have grown; and inflation has plagued some of the villages as it has plagued the western U.S. communities that have become the centers of boom activities.
In the rural American West, residents often anticipate energy developments with optimism and hope, no matter how many boom-bust cycles they have experienced in their lifetimes. Such is not the case in the three villages analyzed here. Threats to sea mammals, waterfowl and seabirds, fish, plants, the beauty of the landscape, and even to the integrity of native culture are anticipated, and some are already being experienced. Moreover, in expropriating native resources, the state also arrogated control over the animals that provide the basis for native subsistence. Dependency, then, has been accompanied by domination.
Natives, however, eschew domination. They take their traditional sovereignty very seriously. Several villages, including Gambell, have gone to court repeatedly to protect their environments from harm and have won injunctions against leasing and exploration in the Bering Sea and Bristol Bay. In fall 1985, successful cases were heard in the U.S. District Court for Alaska (Village of Akutan v. Hodel , D. Alaska Civ. 85-701) and the U.S. 9th Circuit Court of Appeals (Village of Gambell v. Hodel , 85â3877). Yet in March 1987, the U.S. Supreme Court overturned the Circuit Court decisions and lifted the injunctions.
It is not possible to deal with each village in the great detail that we have marshaled for the technical reports, but the comparisons that I make here should provide some generalizations that cannot be made in single-case analyses and some modest validity checks as well. There are several topics that we did not pursue in our inquiries which will undoubtedly hold interest for many readers. We did not request or gain the informed consent of villagersâleaders and nonleadersâto study alcohol or drug abuse, interpersonal violence of any kind, suicide, or crimes (alcohol-related or otherwise). As a consequence, I do not report on these issues. We did not pursue these questions in part because they were peripheral to our research interests but also because these topics are extremely vulnerable to bias and errors in reporting (threats to validity). In two separate analyses of social indicators in Alaska, we studied these topics among large samples of villages (Jorgensen, McCleary, and McNabb 1985; Jorgensen and McCleary 1987; Jorgensen 1988). We did not obtain positive correlations among these presumed measures of social dislocation or between them and factors that are assumed to cause them.
I do not wish to give the impression that there is no public drunkenness, or violence, or drug abuse in these three villages or that suicides do not occur within them. Each of the three villages has an ordinance prohibiting alcohol; public drunkenness was not common or even noticeable; and violence within families was not noticeable.
During 1982 and subsequently, I have visited Gambell and Unalakleet. Residents of both villages have visited me as well, and I have maintained correspondence and other communications with persons there and in Wainwright. My research associate, Jean Maxwell, conducted research in Gambell and subsequently took up residence in Unalakleet for three years. Thus, the ethnography that underpins this study is well informed.
During 1987 and 1988, as part of the social indicators project, Steven McNabb, Morgan Solomon, and Muriel Hopson conducted research in Wainwright. In 1989, Mike Galginaitis conducted research for me there. In 1988 and 1989, Lynn A. Robbins conducted research in Gambell. He was joined by Donald Callaway in 1988 and Allan Alowa in 1989. Steven McNabb and Helga Eakon conducted research in Unalakleet in 1988, and McNabb was joined there by Steve Ivanoff in 1989.
I am deeply indebted to the villagers of Wainwright, Unalakleet, and Gambell for the information they have provided and to Charles F. Cortese, Virgil Katchatag, Paul Katchatag, Ronald L. Little, Barbara Luton, Harry Luton, Jean A. Maxwell, Delbert Ozoovena, Lynn A. Robbins, Timmy Slwooko, and Vernita K. Zyllis for their careful research.
I thank my colleague and fishing partner, James J. Flink, for his careful reading and useful comments.
Max Linn, president of the John Muir Institute, has been an excellent associate and friend over the past twenty years. He contributed to the entire research project with his good sense and his managerial skills, but he also brought his keen mind and sharp editing skills to several of our reports and to this book.
Jack Heesch, the Contracting Officer's Technical Representative (COR) who inherited our project a few months after its inception and guided it to the completion of the Unalakleet report and near completion of the other two, was superb at his task. He provided help when necessary and showed understanding all of the time.
Timothy O'Leary, fabled ethnographic bibliographer and director of files research at the Human Relations Area Files, New Haven, provided an extremely careful reading of the text, caught a thousand errors, and painstakingly checked (correcting as necessary) every one of the Linnean binomials.
Professor Wendell Oswalt, a bold (he identified himself), knowledgeable (he too is fabled as the most erudite of scholars working in the Alaskan arctic and subarctic), and very helpful reader for the University of California Press provided good insights for generalizations I had not made and appropriate challenges to some shaky claims. I thank him but do not hold him responsible. A second UC Press reader remains anonymous, but I thank that reader for useful comments.
I hope that this work assists readers in understanding contemporary Alaskan Eskimo village culture and the way in which federal legislation and oil-related developments have influenced village life.