Caroline Cannon, North America winner of 2012 Goldsmith Environmental Prize

Inupiat Goldman Prize Winner Strong in Fight Against Arctic Drilling

Rick Kearns

Caroline Cannon, winner of the 2012 Goldman Environmental Prize, has not rested in her fight to save her Inupiat community and their way of life from Arctic oil drilling.

For 30 years the Inupiat people of the remote community of Point Hope, Alaska, have looked to Cannon for leadership. This year she was recognized on the international stage for her role in the struggle against oil and gas drilling in the Artic Circle.

Cannon won the 2012 North America Goldman Environmental Prize, an award that honors grassroots environmental activists around the world, providing them with international exposure and $150,000 to benefit the recipient’s organization or cause. For the grandmother of 26, the cause is preventing an oil spill that, she asserted, could cause the “eradication of our culture, people and way of life.”

In an interview with Public Radio International’s Living on Earth following her April 16 award, Cannon explained how an oil spill could affect her traditional Inupiat community and the entire region.

“For one thing, the infrastructure is not there,” Cannon said about how Point Hope would deal with an oil spill emergency. “Look, we’re a unique, small village, and yet sometimes a Medevac can’t even come in. If it’s a life-and-death situation, we’re not ready for it. But could you imagine if there was an oil spill? You’re not going to be able to take care of it right then and there.”

Indeed, in the Gulf of Mexico, where operations are unimpeded by ice, it still took three months to stop the flow from the BP oil spill, she pointed out. In the Arctic, she said, there is no way to quickly mitigate a spill.

“When the ice decides to stack up with the power that it has, there’s no stopping it,” she said. “We cannot, no man can stop it. When mother nature does her thing and the winds are gusting forty to fifty miles an hour, there’s no way, no how.”

While Cannon and her allies had some victories in preventing oil and gas development in the region—she represented Point Hope as a co-plaintiff in a suit that resulted in stopping all but one major gas lease in 2009—Royal Dutch Shell received permission to proceed despite equipment problems, and the company conducted preparatory work in September.

The Inupiat activist has not spoken publicly about this recent development, but in an essay written for the Alaska Wilderness League she asserted that she was prepared to keep fighting.

“I know we have to fight for our rights to a clean environment and the continuation of our culture and traditions because that is what our elders have dictated,” she wrote. “We are to do everything in our power to protect our water, our land, our way of life. The proposed oil and gas activities affect the very foundations of who we are as individuals and as a people. We have a right to life, to physical integrity, to security, and the right to enjoy the benefits of our culture. For this, we will fight; we just hope not to die as a people during the process.”

More on drilling off Alaska:

Iñupiat Hunting Community Divided Over Shell Drilling in Chukchi Sea off Alaska

Arctic Drilling: Shell Nixes Exploratory Chukchi Sea Wells Till 2013 Season

Arctic Drilling: Ice Floe Stops Shell’s Noble Discoverer From Biting Into Bottom of Chukchi Sea

Government Puts Shell’s Arctic Drilling Plans on Hold

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gsevalikova's picture
Submitted by gsevalikova on
Should anyone be surprised that Royal Dutch Shell has permission to do this ?? The Treaty of Lisbon has wedded this continent to the EU ,which as we know was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize,taking credit for things America did for them after WW2, like the Marshall Plan. In Opra's magazine,O there was an article about BP Oil and what they were/are doing to the people down there in the Gulf, like arresting tour guides and pilots who try to show the extent of the damage, and where the oil really went, on the sea floor! Wake up Westerners! This Hemisphere is still the object of coveting by FOREIGN POWERS. Don't forget that Russia and China gave notice that they plan to take the Arctic for themselves,and foreign media tell the tale. Get ready for the major war that will soon be launched gainst us all.