Indigenous Peoples and Human Rights 2020

Wednesday, October 3, 2007

Cry from the top of the world, Arctic sea ice is melting

Black carbon from US smoke stacks and tailpipes melt sea ice as US rushes to stake claims for oil drilling in the Arctic

By Brenda Norrell

TUCSON, Ariz. – With the sea ice melting in the Arctic at an alarming rate, the whales, walrus, seals and polar bears are threatened with the loss of their homelands and changing migrations of their food sources as water temperatures rise.
“This is really affecting the communities that rely on the bowhead whales,” said Nikos Pastos, Confederated Salish and Kootenai Tribes of the Flathead Nation in Montana, born and raised in Alaska. He is cofounder of the intertribal network group Alaska’s Big Village Network.
“As we advocate for sacred sites and human rights, we realize that it all comes back to water,” Pastos said.
Recent studies show black carbons from smokestacks and tailpipes in North America, Europe and Asia in the melting Arctic ice. Pastos said the changing climate, combined with expanded oil drilling, threatens to bring an end to the diversity of the planet.
Currently, there is an unprecedented amount of mining on Alaska Native lands. Further, as the Arctic melts, the United States and other countries are rushing to claim the homeland of the whales, walrus, seals and polar bears for new oil drilling.
“There are changing salinity levels and changing wind patterns. It makes the polar bears have to go further for food. It is also changing fish migration patterns and the patterns of sea birds," Pastos said.
At the Western Mining Action Network Conference in Tucson, hosted by MineWatch Canada, Sept. 28 -29, Pastos joined Indigenous Peoples from the Americas organizing to halt mining and oil drilling in Indigenous territories.
Indigenous Peoples from Peru and Guatemala united with Western Shoshone, Navajo, Spokane, Dene from Saskatchewan, Acoma Pueblo and other Indian Nations to organize resistance to the destruction of Indigenous homelands.
Scientists point out that the Arctic’s pristine, white snow is actually more polluted than it appears to be. Tiny particles of black carbon from forest fires and human pollution have been found in the melting ice in Greenland. Using microscopes, scientists can see black carbon particles by the trillions, which came from North America, Europe and Asia.
"Black carbon absorbs sunlight and it causes warming," said Stephen Warren, an atmospheric scientist at the University of Washington.” He says the only way to save the Arctic is to cut emissions and decrease black carbon from smokestacks and tailpipes, all the way from the United States to China.
Pastos, a research sociologist and facilitator, is among the American Indians now organizing to preserve the homelands of Indigenous Peoples and the environment. He lives on the Flathead Nation in Montana and in Anchorage and works as a consultant on environmental policies for Indian Nations.
“Alaska’s Big Village Network is a networking group based in Anchorage that is guided in principle by Alaska Native values. We are advised by youth and elders councils. We are working on healing the mental, social, and physical environment through building communities of inclusion,” Pastos said.
While growing up in the beauty of Alaska and Montana, Pastos became aware of the destructive mining and development around him.
“I always lived in the sacred mountains of Alaska and Montana. I grew up fishing, hiking and camping,” Pastos said, adding that his father was a fishing guide.
As oil drilling and pollution increased in Alaska, the way of life was devastated.
“I always lived and worked with many great Indians, Aleuts, and Eskimos. My tribe, Salish-Kootenai in Montana, was a leader in wildlife management and land management. Many of my friends and neighbors in Alaska were destroyed by the Exxon Valdez oil spill,” Pastos said.
As a fisherman in the Bering Sea, he began to see the world with new insight.
“I had been a commercial fisherman in the Bering Sea. This was the turning point in my life. I went back to school and focused on environmental studies and human rights. Later on, I worked on ships in the Bering Sea as an environmental technician, and laborer, cleaning up after the Selendang Ayu oil spill. I also worked as a hazardous waste technician in the Anchorage landfill.
“Watching the social disintegration in the cities and villages of Alaska due to reckless pollution, and super destructive greed motivated by oil, gas, mining and logging made me want to work for social and environmental justice.
"I am a whole person working for the healing and restoration of the mental, social and physical environment," said Pastos, when asked what inspires him to work within this struggle.
Now an environmental sociologist, Pastos is a consultant to Indigenous groups and Indian tribes on environmental and Indigenous human rights policies.
Recently, with Alaska's Big Village Network, Pastos participated and served as an observer at the International Bering Sea Forum, the International Whaling Commission world meetings, and sessions of the National Congress of American Indians in Anchorage. He conducted research and worked with the Cook Inlet Marine Mammal Council, and the Cook Inlet Marine Mammal Hunter's Committee on federal scoping hearings on listing the Cook Inlet Beluga Whales under the Endangered Species Act.
Among those in danger as the Arctic sea ice melts, are the Belugas or "white whales.”According to the Arctic Studies Center, Belugas are one of the three whales that spend all their lives in Arctic waters. The other two are the bowhead and the narwhal. Known as “sea canaries,” Belugas are very social and make a wide variety of sounds. Belugas use echolocation for sea hunting and subtle forms of communication, including a wide variety of facial expressions. Belugas have good vision, but don't have is a dorsal fin like many whales, earning them the name "delphinapterus" or dolphin-without-a-wing.
Pastos, working with the Center for Water Advocacy, is involved with research on Indigenous Peoples' water rights, and is working to support litigation that protects and preserves the water resources of traditional subsistence cultures.
Meanwhile, the threats to Arctic life are increasing at a faster pace than ever before.
A new NASA-led study said there was a 23-percent loss in the extent of the Arctic's thick, year-round sea ice cover during the past two winters. This drastic reduction of perennial winter sea ice is the primary cause of this summer's fastest-ever sea ice retreat on record and subsequent smallest-ever extent of total Arctic coverage, according to the report Oct. 1, 2007.
Between winter 2005 and winter 2007, the perennial ice shrunk by an area the size of Texas and California combined. Scientists observed less perennial ice cover in March 2007 than ever before, with the thick ice confined to the Arctic Ocean north of Canada. Consequently, the Arctic Ocean was dominated by thinner seasonal ice that melts faster. This ice is more easily compressed and responds more quickly to being pushed out of the Arctic by winds. Those conditions facilitated the ice loss, leading to this year's record low amount of total Arctic sea ice.
Indigenous Peoples gathered at the mining conference in Tucson called for a halt to mining and oil drilling and preservation of Indigenous territories for future generations.
Western Shoshone Carrie Dann said Indian territories are being devastated by mining, including gold mining in Western Shoshone territory which poisons the water in Nevada and cores out mountains. Further, Shoshone are under constant assault from nuclear testing and dumping. With global threats of new uranium mining, Navajos and their relatives to the north, Dene in Canada, spoke out against the trail of radioactivity, disease and death left by uranium mining.
Louise Benally, Navajo from Big Mountain, Arizona, where coal mining and relocation have devastated Navajo communities on Black Mesa for 30 years, said Indigenous Peoples must rise up to halt the slaughter of Mother Earth.
"Mother Earth is going to be butchered if all these operations take place," Benally said.
Benally spoke out against the proposed Desert Rock Power Plant on the Navajo Nation land in New Mexico, pointing out that the Four Corners region does not need another power plant.
With temperatures already rising, Benally said Indian Nations should become world leaders to halt global warming and protect the environment.
Arriving from South America at the conference, Miguel Palacin, Quechua from Lima, Peru, said mobilizations in South America on the "Day of Genocide," October 12, will be a time to voice resistance to the genocide of Indigenous Peoples and halt the ongoing genocide of mining and oil drilling in Indigenous territories.
More information:
Nikos Pastos also serves on the Board of Directors for the Center for Water Advocacy.
Contact information:
Alaska’s ‘Big Village’ Network, 8101 Peck Avenue #M-88 Anchorage, Alaska 99504 phone: 907-764-2561 fax: 907-333-3009
Alaska’s ‘Big Village’ Network e-mail:
Carl Wassilie 907-382-3403
Nikos Pastos 907-764-2561 :
Censored Blog's coverage on the Western Mining Action Network Conference in Tucson:
Peru's Indigenous Peoples arise in defense of Earth from mining
Mayans in Guatemala: 'No Compromise,' halt gold mining

NASA research on melting Arctic

Defenders of Wildlife

Among those threatened is the spectacled eider’s winter feeding grounds in the Bering Sea, whose homeland is shrinking and changing because of global warming. It will likely lead to a food shortage for this already threatened sea duck, according to the tenth and final chapter of Defenders of Wildlife’s “Navigating the Arctic Meltdown” series.
The spectacled eider, named for its unmistakable white eye patches with black rims, is especially vulnerable to the warming temperatures in the Arctic. The entire world population gathers for the winter in a small area of the Bering Sea southwest of Alaska’s St. Lawrence Island. However, global warming is now upsetting the delicate balance and threatening the spectacled eider’s winter stronghold by warming the water and attracting fish that compete with the eider for their limited winter food source.
“The spectacled eider’s American population was being decimated by lead poisoning, which resulted in the species being listed as threatened under the Endangered Species Act in 1993,” said Jean Brennan, senior climate change scientist for Defenders of Wildlife. “Now the struggling American population, along with every other spectacled eider in the world, is facing additional peril because of the changes that global warming is creating in their feeding grounds and breeding habitats.”
Global warming also threatens to dry up the small ponds and wetlands that dot the Arctic coastal plain on Alaska’s north slope, on which the spectacled eider and many other bird species rely for breeding habitat. These vast areas of tundra wetland exist because of permafrost, the permanently frozen layer of ground that prevents water from draining away. As climate change accelerates the melting of permafrost, it is transforming the eider’s nesting habitat as wetlands give way to shrublands and forests.
"The changes to the Arctic caused by global warming are creating almost year-round problems for the spectacled eider. The breeding grounds they use in spring and summer are drying up. In the winter, they return to an altered seascape where much of their shellfish diet is being depleted by the fish that now flock to the warmer waters. This is all on top of their early autumn molting when eiders cannot fly, so they congregate in small areas where they are vulnerable to potential fuel spills and entanglement with fishing gear or floating trash,” said Brennan.
In its series on global warming and the Arctic, Defenders of Wildlife stresses the need to reduce greenhouse gas emissions as a key to reducing the effects of global warming over the long term, both in the Arctic and worldwide. But in the meantime, immediate action must be taken to reduce the other pressures on species being negatively impacted by global warming, and to better understand what steps we can take to preserve Arctic animals and plants.
For the spectacled eider, much more research is needed into the birds and the ecology of their wintering grounds, which were only discovered in 1999. In particular, we need to find out more about how global warming is changing the Bering Sea and what those changes mean to the spectacled eider and other Arctic wildlife.
Second, protecting the eider while they are in their breeding habitat is key to helping them survive global warming. Experts believe that lead poisoning, contracted when ducks accidentally eat lead shot, caused the steep decline that led to the species’ listing under the Endangered Species Act. Lead shot was banned in waterfowl hunting in 1991 because of the devastating impacts it was having on ducks and geese nationwide. In the remote region of western Alaska where the eiders breed, this ban has been difficult to enforce, but wildlife and public health officials must continue their efforts and stress the impacts that lead shot has on wild birds, and on people who eat birds that have been killed with lead shot.
Finally, fishing and ship traffic should be curtailed in areas where molting birds are present. The spectacled eider gathers in large groups in tightly concentrated areas just off of the Alaskan and Siberian coast to molt, so any oil spill or other human-caused catastrophe in these areas would be devastating to the species, especially in light of the new threats that global warming presents. “While it may take 100 years or more to begin to reverse some of the harmful changes we’ve already caused to the Earth’s climate, it is our responsibility to step up our efforts to protect wildlife that is being affected by global warming today so our children and grandchildren will be able to enjoy wildlife tomorrow,” says Rodger Schlickeisen, president of Defenders of Wildlife.
The entire “Navigating the Arctic Meltdown” series can be found at It includes all ten chapters of the series, which describe how global warming is threatening the polar bear, ivory gull, wolverine, red-throated loon, Arctic cod, Kittlitz’s murrelet, caribou, orange-crowned warbler, walrus and spectacled eider.
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