Treasure America Project Update: Promoting sustainable economic development on the North Slope of Alaska

Date: July 14, 2005
Authors: Holly Coleman – Alaska Program Manager, Treasure America Project
Andrew Smith – Executive Director, Treasure America Project

Reducing the United States’ dependence on oil will affect diverse aspects of American society. “Soccer moms” will save money on transportation with more efficient vehicle technology. Investment in alternative energy sources will create more jobs for American workers. At the same time, on a remote island in the Arctic, less oil industry development will challenge the small Inupiat village of Kaktovik, Alaska to find new ways to create employment that do not depend on the oil industry funds. Kaktovik is the closest inhabited community to the threatened lands of the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge, and it is where the Treasure America Project (TAP) chose to launch its initial effort to reduce America’s addiction to oil.

The TAP team visited Kaktovik to analyze the impact of oil development on a small subsistence community and to discuss economic alternatives to oil industry funded jobs. Over 90% of employment in Kaktovik comes from construction projects funded by oil industry monies and from government service jobs with the city and the local school which also depend on oil industry tax dollars. Virtually no local entrepreneurship exists in this “top-down” economic model which mirrors the economic structure of former socialist economies.

The TAP team worked with community members to identify non-oil industry business opportunities that could create employment for Kaktovik residents while protecting the surrounding terrain and the local customs of the Inupiat tribe. Diversification of business activities is required in any healthy economy, large or small. Without the vibrancy and innovative thinking of small business, Kaktovik will continue to be wedded to the financing of the oil industry. No other economic opportunities will exist. Fortunately, a growing number of residents are realizing this. There is new interest in eco-tourism and increased recognition that oil industry development threatens traditional practices of subsistence living.

Given the private nature of this village’s approximately 250 inhabitants, the TAP team invested significant time to build trust and motivate community members to participate in the economic development seminars held for the village. Two of the project’s contacts in the community, Robert Thompson, a local guide and a strong anti-drilling proponent, and Lon Sonsalla, the Mayor of Kaktovik, warned that seminar attendance would be low but that the team would be welcome guests to their community. After numerous one-on-one conversations, the project succeeded in bringing together five community members for an initial seminar to discuss new business development in the community. A short brainstorming exercise resulted in the identification of 18 different business ideas including: local guiding services, a crafts shop, a taxi company and a local greenhouse business to offer fresh produce to the community rather than fly it in from hours away. (Or weeks away in bad weather!)

The second TAP seminar involved a hands-on working session with local guides to discuss marketing strategies, community planning as well as training and partnerships needed to support new ventures. The TAP team’s combined expertise of economic development and sustainable business practices steered participants toward viable business ventures which simultaneously benefited the community, the environment and individual bank accounts.

After a ten day trip experiencing the wilderness of the Arctic Refuge through a 120-mile raft trip, hikes in the Brooks Range and the observation of migrating caribou, the team returned, inspired, with first-hand knowledge of what lies above the ancient carbon reserves. The team confirms, firsthand, that the Refuge is not a “blank, white, nothingness” as stated by the current Secretary of the Interior Gale Norton, but an enchanting wild area.

The short-term objective of Treasure America Project is to support the local people of Kaktovik in their quest for alternatives to the boom and bust promise of the oil industry. The long-term vision of Treasure America is to move the United States away from its addiction to oil. Newer, cleaner technologies will create plentiful cost savings and job opportunities for Americans while protecting, not degrading, national treasures such as the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge.


Treasure America Report: Kaktovik Tourism Industry Recommendations

New Press Release: Debunking the Myth of Oil Dependency in Alaska

Helping communities over-dependent on oil: Kaktovik, Alaska

During the summer of 2005 the Treasure America Project went to the village of Kaktovik, Alaska to analyze the economic consequences of oil industry dependence and opportunities to promote increased local entrepreneurship.
Invitation for Citizens of Kaktovik.
Seminar Flyer [PDF].
Trip report [DOC].
Website for local guides.

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