The Bureau of
Indian Affairs recognizes 225 tribes in the state of Alaska. Unlike recognized tribal
reservations in the continental United States, Alaska is organized under a separate system.
In the late 1960s, oil was discovered on the North Slope of Alaska. This discovery forced the federal
government to deal with Alaska's aboriginal land ownership, resulting with the 1971 Alaska Native Claims
Settlement Act (ANCSA). Under this settlement the indigenous people of Alaska 'earned' claim to 44 million
acres of land (or 1/9 of Alaska's land area) while the rest of the land was 'sold' to the federal government
for $962.5 million. The land was to be managed through the newly founded corporations. ANCSA had allowed
the state to construct the 800-mile Trans-Alaskan pipeline to transport oil from Prudhoe Bay to Valdez;
from there the oil is transported by tanker to the rest of the United States and world.
Thus began Alaska's boom and bust oil economy that has changed the face of society, the landscape, and the
environment. An ongoing controversy surrounds the question of whether or not to drill for oil in the Arctic
National Wildlife Refuge. This oil, if drilled, would ultimately contribute to the problem of climate change
by emitting CO2 into the atmosphere when it is burned. Where would that leave the people that provided the
oil to the rest of the world? Alaskan Natives won one struggle during the land claims, which came about
because of a demand for oil. The continued demand for oil ultimately is contributing to another, more
extreme struggle for Alaska Natives. Climate change is altering the face of the planet, and our response is
crucial for life on the only earth we know.