Natives take over meeting, yell at officials over drilling of Coastal Plain



Alaska Natives from Defending the Sacred AK and loosely associated groups took over a pubic meeting in Fairbanks, shouted at the federal officials, chanted, waved banners, and generally disrupted proceedings held for the purpose of gathering public input on developing oil and gas resources on the Coastal Plain of the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge.

Joe Balash, Assistant Secretary of the Interior and a former Fairbanksian, stood stoically, while Samuel Johns, a Gwich’in man, confronted him loudly, as seen in the Defending the Sacred photo above:

“It’s very disrespectful to just bring in a bunch of non-Natives into a community to tell us how you gonna handle our land — do you understand that? Yeah, bringing experts into people that have been living for thousands of years, and I’m just saying, change the ratio as to who’s in charge! Look at the people here who are working right now. How many of them are Alaska Native. How many of them are Alaska Native right now, can you tell me?”

Defend the Sacred AK called the meeting a “sham” that gave them no opportunity to voice their opinion. They demanded that the federal officials make time for the Native elders to give their testimony and they shouted, “Bring out the stenographer!” to take down their words.

The theme of the group of about 200 was that non-Natives and corporations have no business opening the lands, even though they have long been set aside by the federal government for such resource use.

The draft environmental impact statement for oil and gas exploration on the Coast Plain was issued Dec. 20. Now, the BLM is hosting a series of informational meetings across the state, but not in the fashion of hearings. They are set up to be more of conversations and dialogues, but the one in Fairbanks ended up being taken over by mob rule.

At the end of the evening, when officials were ready to close up the meeting at the Carlson Center, the Native protesters took over and started dancing, drumming, and singing.

After the partial government shutdown, the schedule for the hearings has been altered. The original comment period was to end Feb. 11.

“We received requests from Alaska communities and tribes as well as non-profit organizations from across the nation asking for additional time and meeting locations,”  Balash said in a statement last month. “After considering these requests, we have decided to extend the comment period to March 13.”

[Information on the planning process can be found at this link]

The next public meetings will be held in Kaktovik on Feb. 5; Utqiagvik’s Heritage Center on Feb. 6; Fort Yukon on Feb. 7; Arctic Village on Feb. 9; Venetie on Feb. 10; Anchorage’s Dena’ina Civic and Convention Center on Feb. 11; and Washington, D.C on Feb. 13.


  1. Let me get this right, these were “proceedings held for the purpose of gathering public input”. And, then Mr. Balash, et. al., were screamed at by the Defend Sacred AK group, demanding an opportunity to give their input? Did the group not wait, politely, to give public comment? Was there not a public input period at the meeting or were they just a disrespectful mob of jackasses? Just wondering….

    My goodness people, if you want to make a point, try doing it with some civility. Craft your message in a professional manner and deliver it as such. When you’re agressive, frothing at the mouth and pointing fingers, your message gets lost. Take a breath and settle down. Maybe Mr. Johns should take a lesson from the Native elders. He doesn’t appear to be one yet. The ones I know take a calmer, more thoughtful approach to problem solving.

  2. “Yeah, bringing experts into people that have been living for thousands of years.” Umm, shouldn’t that be changed to “bring experts into people that have been dying out….”. Alcohol, suicide, incest, etc. But that’s going to be blamed on the ‘whites’ I suppose. I have lived in the native villages and deeply respect and love the people, but they have been infected with the hate and the ‘give me my moment of fame’ syndrome.

  3. As the saying goes, democracy dies in darkness. Just like the “streamlining” of the government environmental review is painted in a positive light, so to was last nights open house structure where public comment would have been held privately and questions would have been answered in a similar one on one, low witness fashion. The presentations were held at 2pm and 5pm, times very difficult for people to attend without missing work as well as only being given 5 days notice. This is not democracy, this is the Trump administration using power for corporate gain, wake up. If this were your land, which it’s not by the way, you’d be doing the exact same thing. Natives have been systematically oppressed, and here you sit from your throne of white superiority and criticize them for demanding that a public hearing for public comment actually be a public hearing for public comment instead of one on one private meetings without witnesses. The value in having a public discourse is information sharing and witnesses. Of course the BLM will try and say, “we were just trying to help,” but it’s not the people they are helping, it is the MNCs. Alaskans are for RESPONSIBLE development. “Streamlining” the democratic process is not responsible. Democracy is slow and articulate for a reason. Oil can wait. These conversations are important and they need to happen out in the open for all to see. That is responsible. I commend the people for demanding a democratic process, this is the true American spirit.

  4. Whats interesting to me is 2 of the people testifying live in large cities, Anchorage and Fairbanks. They made a big deal about making the meeting notes in the native language.

    My suggestion to you move back to your village, speak the language and then many of us might LISTEN!

  5. My question would be, who helped them organize their “disrespectful” protesting? It seems that someone with ulterior motives have their fingerprints all over this. Hmm … just wondering. From someone who’s been in many Interior Alaskan Native villages. Like Garnet’s post above alluded to … Native elders behave far better than the young ones who haven’t reached maturity.

  6. The Trans-Alaska Pipeline and infrastructure on Alaska’s North Slope are a testament to how humans can develop responsibly while caring for the land and wildlife. For 50 years we have built and operated these oil fields in the most forbidding environment known to man. The Inupiat and Gwich’in people were heard, and that dialogue led to even greater protections for the resources like Caribou. The central arctic herd, the only caribou affected by north slope infrastructure, have thrived during 50 years of responsible development and even with recent declines are still 5 times more numerous than before the development started.

    The Gwich’in are rightfully concerned about the Caribou, but the evidence shows that this concern is not well founded. Mistakes made in Canada’s arctic that affected related tribes have not been and are not likely to be repeated in Alaska. Development at Prudhoe Bay has shown this to be true.

    The Inupiat people along Alaska’s arctic coast defeated the nomadic Gwich’in bands in the Brooks Range many years before EuroAsian contact, forcing the survivors to flee to Arctic Village, Chandalar and the villages of other more southern bands. Their loss of affected lands to the Inupiat has nothing to do with the Westerners they now blame. They no longer roam these lands and have settled in villages. Things change. Nothing stays the same for thousands of years. Their way of life and the wildlife they hunt have not and will not be affected. The Gwich’in do not have the right to speak for the Inupiat who now own infrastructure and lands proposed for development.

    Shouting and being disrespectful is not productive. We see too many examples of this across our country but most Alaskans believe we are better than that. Shouting for a court stenographer is certainly not the way to encourage dialogue. If the Gwich’in really want to learn from the elders they should revisit the productive discussions held during the Alaska Native Claims Settlement Act. The elders then acted like adults, not spoiled children. It is time for all Alaska Native groups to join in this recent conversation but disrespectful communications like this should be ignored.

  7. “The theme of the group of about 200 was that non-Natives and corporations have no business opening the lands,…”
    There’s your sign…
    If Native corporations were happy with the vig on this deal, they wouldn’t let a company of useful idiots throw tantrums.
    So, give them what they want and be done with it…
    Almost comforting that useful idiocy knows no racial bounds…
    Otherwise it don’t mean a thing.

  8. Thank you Fred and Jeff. Makenzie, you too reference the “white”, as did Mr. John in his rant. Your words are “and here you sit from your throne of white superiority and criticize them for demanding that a public hearing for public comment actually be a public hearing for public comment instead of one on one private meetings without witnesses”. My question is this: Does anyone in this forum, including you Makenzie, know my blood quantum or the blood quantum of any of the people in the crowd or audience or bystanders, or anyone other than yourself for that matter? What percentage do I need to be to comment on the immature way in which Mr. John conducts himself? Is that the litmus test that determines whether you can be critical of another persons actions?

    • Every drop of Native Blood matters. Ask Elizabeth Warren, aka, POCOHONTAS. Harvard Law School Dean, US Senator, presidential candidate. FRAUD in the factum. But 1/1000 percentage gets you in the game. So get your DNA report. Annouce your lineage. Publish. And get into the racial gravytrain. And start yellin.

  9. Our tribe conquered their tribe. But instead of wiping them out we said: “Join our tribe, we will all be Americans”.
    What kind of deal would they get from the Chinese or Russians?

  10. Has a anyone seen or heard from our Native brother Byron Mallott? Where is a good, solid, moral brother when you need one?

    • Please, Tom. You are technically a racist for asking this question. Racism is no longer a behavioral trait. It’s the new moniker for White, middle-age Republican men, regardless of whatever. Now, get back to solving hate crimes and quite wasting Bureau time.

  11. Call me old fashioned but I was told not to bite the hand that feeds you. Rural Alaska exists on oil money, and so do the governmental agencies that oversee the herds health and viability.
    Caribou are an important food source for natives. Survival also requires medicine,education,energy, housing, cell phones and all the other stuff oil pays for. Cut off all oil money to the Gwitchin and see the response. This latest catfight is that same old political puffery for some who think that lambasting development is somehow productive. Whatever…..

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