Alaskan National Wildlife Refuge:

In celebration of Earth Day, SMC hosted 10 hours of films relating to the environment on April 22 and 23. One such film was "Oil on Ice," a film by author, activist and member of the Gwich'in Indian tribe of Alaska, Adeline Peter Raboff.

A day earlier on April 21, the U.S. House of Representatives approved an energy bill to open a portion of the coastal plains of ANWR (Arctic National Wildlife Refuge) for oil drilling. Proponents argue the drilling provides the United States with a means to reduce dependency on foreign oil, create an estimated 1 million jobs, and have only a minor impact on the Alaskan wildlife.

"This is what it looks like. Don't be misinformed," said former Alaska Senator Frank Murkowski as he addressed the topic on the senate floor pointing to a solid, white cardboard rectangle during the opening of the film - as if that blankness were all that Alaska represents. "It is flat, it is unattractive, it is not pristine," he said.As the film rolled through its opening credits, it became evident what the ex-senator was talking about.

Seconds rolled by as the camera panned through what seemed an endless sheet of white - an image of the dreary Alaskan wilds. Dreary that is, until a pair of eyes pop out through the snow as a camouflaged mink rears its head and in a flash, disappears into the landscape. What followed were clips of foxes, bears, birds and even insects - clearly, ANWR was not the barren tundra Murkowski said.

The film then proceeds to illustrate how drilling on a large scale might cause indigenous wildlife like the mink to disappear forever."Politicians say that the area is a vast wasteland when it is in fact, teeming with life," said Raboff during a question and answer session. "We have caribou, wolverines and over 180 species of birds." Also addressed in the film was the 1989 Exxon Valdez oil spill off the coast of Prince William Sound in Alaska where over 1,300 miles of coastline was devastated.

Although Exxon had claimed the spill to be "environmentally benign," the film reveals the declining population of wildlife and mutations caused by the toxic contents of the spill as well as the adverse chain reaction it has set off due to inter-species codependency. Other issues addressed include the fate of the native Indian tribes. Heavily dependant on hunting and fishing, a member of one such tribe states in the film that offshore drilling has caused them to have to "go further and further out for subsistence fishing."The annual migration pattern of the Porcupine Caribou - an animal that is dependent on for food and leather by the tribes - will also be drastically affected if drilling were to be allowed, as the calving grounds of these animals are located on the refuge.

Asked why more was not being done by the tribes to fight the drilling in Alaska, Raboff said "permanent dividends" offered by the drilling companies, and that "most of the people living there are retired military personnel and native oil employees."

But as a statement by an interviewed native goes: "We can depend on the land; we can't depend on the jobs."

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