“I certainly have seen the benefits that can come from [oil] royalties. Schools are better. There are swimming pools, gymnasium, cars – and jobs – all the result of billions of dollars.”
Patricia Cochran, a former chair of the Inuit Circumpolar Council from Alaska, expresses the view of many indigenous people on industrial development in the Arctic. Vast oil and mineral wealth have brought huge benefits to some communities.
But her own conflicted feelings about development neatly sum up the dilemma that indigenous leaders in the region face. In Barrow – Alaska’s oil capital – there are also high rates of suicide and depression, while offshore drilling is a threat to subsistence whaling and the hunting of seals and walrus, she points out. So despite the benefits, Cochran is personally quite negative about industrial development and questions the wider benefit to society.
But even there, local leaders of indigenous people have mixed views about who is really benefiting. And overall the “community” representing indigenous people is split down the middle over the issue.
As I say, entirely cynical.
Traditional leaders are going to be against any change. When you’re at the top of a society you know damn well that change might topple you from that position. And yes, there are those who would rather be top than to be middle or bottom in a much richer society.
Yer average Guardian reader would understand this instinctively about the British aristocracy or the Bullingdon Boys. But they never seem to make the connection with the same thing happening in other societies.