With the sea ice melting in the Arctic at an alarming rate, the whales, walrus, seals and polar bears are threatened with the loss of their homelands and changing migrations of their food sources as water temperatures rise.
“This is really affecting the communities that rely on the bowhead whales,” said Nikos Pastos, Confederated Salish and Kootenai Tribes of the Flathead Nation in Montana, born and raised in Alaska. He is cofounder to the intertribal network group Alaska’s Big Village Network.
“As we advocate for sacred sites and human rights, we realize that it all comes back to water,” Pastos said.
Recent studies show black carbons from smokestacks and tailpipes in North America, Europe and Asia in the melting Arctic ice. Pastos said the changing climate, combined with expanded oil drilling, threatens to bring an end to the diversity of the planet.
Currently, there is an unprecedented amount of mining on Alaska Native lands. Further, as the Arctic melts, the United States and other countries are rushing to claim the homeland of the whales, walrus, seals and polar bears for new oil drilling.
“There are changing salinity levels and changing wind patterns. It makes the polar bears have to go further for food. It is also changing fish migration patterns and the patterns of sea birds,” Pastos said.
At the Western Mining Action Network Conference in Tucson, hosted by MineWatch Canada, Sept. 28 -29, Pastos joined Indigenous Peoples from the Americas organizing to halt mining and oil drilling in Indigenous territories.
Indigenous Peoples from Peru and Guatemala united with Western Shoshone, Navajo, Spokane, Dene from Saskatchewan, Acoma Pueblo and other Indian Nations to organize resistance to the destruction of Indigenous homelands.
Scientists point out that the Arctic’s pristine, white snow is actually more polluted than it appears to be. Tiny particles of black carbon from forest fires and human pollution have been found in the melting ice in Greenland. Using microscopes, scientists can see black carbon particles by the trillions, which came from North America, Europe and Asia.
“Black carbon absorbs sunlight and it causes warming,” said Stephen Warren, an atmospheric scientist at the University of Washington.” He says the only way to save the Arctic is to cut emissions and decrease black carbon from smokestacks and tailpipes, all the way from the United States to China.
Pastos, a research sociologist and facilitator, is among the American Indians now organizing to preserve the homelands of Indigenous Peoples and the environment. He lives on the Flathead Nation in Montana and in Anchorage and works as a consultant on environmental policies for Indian Nations.
“Alaska’s Big Village Network is a networking group based in Anchorage that is guided in principle by Alaska Native values. We are advised by youth and elders councils. We are working on healing the mental, social, and physical environment through building communities of inclusion,” Pastos said.
While growing up in the beauty of Alaska and Montana, Pastos became aware of the destructive mining and development around him.
“I always lived in the sacred mountains of Alaska and Montana. I grew up fishing, hiking and camping,” Pastos said, adding that his father was a fishing guide.
As oil drilling and pollution increased, the way of life was devastated.
“I always lived and worked with many great Indians, Aleuts, and Eskimos. My tribe, Salish-Kootenai in Montana, was a leader in wildlife management and land management. Many of my friends and neighbors in Alaska were destroyed by the Exxon Valdez oil spill,” Pastos said.
As a fisherman in the Bering Sea, he began to see the world with new insight.
“I had been a commercial fisherman in the Bering Sea. This was the turning point in my life. I went back to school and focused on environmental studies and human rights. Later on, I worked on ships in the Bering Sea as an environmental technician, and laborer, cleaning up after the Selendang Ayu oil spill. I also worked as a hazardous waste technician in the Anchorage landfill.
“Watching the social disintegration in the cities and villages of Alaska due to reckless pollution, and super destructive greed motivated by oil, gas, mining and logging made me want to work for social and environmental justice.
“I am a whole person working for the healing and restoration of the mental, social and physical environment,” said Pastos, when asked what inspires him to work within this struggle.
Now an environmental sociologist, Pastos is a consultant to Indigenous groups and Indian tribes on environmental and Indigenous human rights policies.
Recently, with Alaska’s Big Village Network, Pastos participated and served as an observer at the International Bering Sea Forum, the International Whaling Commission world meetings, and sessions of the National Congress of American Indians in Anchorage. He conducted research and worked with the Cook Inlet Marine Mammal Council, and the Cook Inlet Marine Mammal Hunter’s Committee on federal scoping hearings on listing the Cook Inlet Beluga Whales under the Endangered Species Act.
Among those in danger as the Arctic sea ice melts, are the Belugas or “white whales.”According to the Arctic Studies Center, Belugas are one of the three whales that spend all their lives in Arctic waters. The other two are the bowhead and the narwhal. Known as “sea canaries,” Belugas are very social and make a wide variety of sounds. Belugas use echolocation for sea hunting and subtle forms of communication, including a wide variety of facial expressions. Belugas have good vision, but don’t have is a dorsal fin like many whales, earning them the name “delphinapterus” or dolphin-without-a-wing.
Pastos, working with the Center for Water Advocacy, is involved with research on Indigenous Peoples’ water rights, and is working to support litigation that protects and preserves the water resources of traditional subsistence cultures.
Meanwhile, the threats to Arctic life are increasing at a faster pace than ever before.
A new NASA-led study said there was a 23-percent loss in the extent of the Arctic’s thick, year-round sea ice cover during the past two winters. This drastic reduction of perennial winter sea ice is the primary cause of this summer’s fastest-ever sea ice retreat on record and subsequent smallest-ever extent of total Arctic coverage, according to the report Oct. 1, 2007.
Between winter 2005 and winter 2007, the perennial ice shrunk by an area the size of Texas and California combined. Scientists observed less perennial ice cover in March 2007 than ever before, with the thick ice confined to the Arctic Ocean north of Canada. Consequently, the Arctic Ocean was dominated by thinner seasonal ice that melts faster. This ice is more easily compressed and responds more quickly to being pushed out of the Arctic by winds. Those conditions facilitated the ice loss, leading to this year’s record low amount of total Arctic sea ice.
Indigenous Peoples gathered at the mining conference in Tucson called for a halt to mining and oil drilling and preservation of Indigenous territories for future generations.
Western Shoshone Carrie Dann said Indian territories are being devastated by mining, including gold mining in Western Shoshone territory which poisons the water in Nevada and cores out mountains. Further, Shoshone are under constant assault from nuclear testing and dumping. With global threats of new uranium mining, Navajos and their relatives to the north, Dene in Canada, spoke out against the trail of radioactivity, disease and death left by uranium mining.
Louise Benally, Navajo from Big Mountain, Arizona, where coal mining and relocation have devastated Navajo communities on Black Mesa for 30 years, said Indigenous Peoples must rise up to halt the slaughter of Mother Earth.
“Mother Earth is going to be butchered if all these operations take place,” Benally said.
Benally spoke out against the proposed Desert Rock Power Plant on the Navajo Nation land in New Mexico, pointing out that there are already five power plants in this region contributing to global warming.
With temperatures already rising, Benally said Indian Nations should become world leaders to halt global warming and protect the environment.
Arriving from South America at the conference, Miguel Palacin, Quechua from Lima, Peru, said mobilizations in South America on the “Day of Genocide,” October 12, will be a time to voice resistance to the genocide of Indigenous Peoples and halt the ongoing genocide of mining and oil drilling in Indigenous territories.
Nikos Pastos also serves on the Board of Directors for the Center for Water Advocacy.
The Center for Water Advocacy is a 501(c)(3) public interest policy and legal advocacy organization dedicated to protecting water resources in the Western United States. We work to protect water resources and water rights and support cultural, economic and environmental sustainability. The Center conducts legal research and analysis; participates in administrative and legal proceedings; and interacts with federal and state agencies, communities, and the legal system.
Alaska’s ‘Big Village’ Network,
8101 Peck Avenue #M-88 Anchorage, Alaska 99504 phone: 907-764-2561 fax: 907-333-3009
Alaska’s ‘Big Village’ Network e-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org
Carl Wassilie 907-382-3403 email@example.com
Nikos Pastos 907-764-2561 firstname.lastname@example.org