Caroline Cannon is bringing the voice and perspective of her Inupiat community in Point Hope to the battle to keep Arctic waters safe from offshore oil and gas drilling, and successfully halted numerous oil and gas leases in the region.
The Arctic waters off Alaska’s north coast boast a wide array of biodiversity including polar bears, whales, fish, and millions of migrating birds. The Inupiat people of this region depend on this Arctic marine life—particularly the bowhead whale—for the survival of their traditional subsistence culture. The 700 Inupiat people of Point Hope, a remote village on the shores of the Chukchi Sea in the Arctic Circle, live sustainably from these marine resources, as their ancestors have done for millennia.
Over the last few years, there has been an enormous push to open up Arctic waters to unprecedented oil and gas development, posing an enormous threat to the region’s biodiversity and the native communities who rely on those resources for their survival. Spill prevention and response capability in this remote corner of the world is virtually unknown. If a spill were to occur in the fall when the seas are freezing over, oil could be left to flow until the following summer when relief wells can be drilled.
Yet numerous leases have been slated for approval in the 2007-2012 federal plan for offshore oil and gas development. Hundreds of scientists have appealed to President Obama to stop drilling in the Arctic until experts can study the proposed oil development’s impacts on the region’s marine ecosystems and native communities.
Born and raised in the harsh Arctic environment in Point Hope, Caroline Cannon grew up in a tight-knit Inupiat community who do everything together to survive and provide for their families. The village elders teach everyone in the community to care for each other and respect the land and sea that feed and clothe them. Nurtured by these values, Cannon has been an active leader in Point Hope for over 30 years, having served as president of the native village and on the board of Maniilaq Association, a health organization whose clinics provide much-needed medical care in the absence of local hospitals.
She is driven by a hope that the next generation of Inupiat people, including her 26 grandchildren, will have the opportunity to carry on the way of life that she and her ancestors have known.
Caroline Cannon has become the strongest and most consistent voice against the rush to drill in the Arctic seas. She has traveled across Alaska and to Washington, D.C. to attend hundreds of industry meetings and federal summits, representing Point Hope’s concerns about what’s at stake and sharing her deep traditional knowledge of the Arctic marine environment, including whale migration patterns, walrus habitat and the dynamics of ice floe movements in the region.
She became the face of the Inupiat community in a federal lawsuit challenging the 2007-2012 offshore oil and gas development plan. Her representation of Point Hope as a co-plaintiff in the suit was instrumental in bringing the case to victory when, in 2009, a federal court ruled that the proposed oil and gas leases failed to consider the significant impacts to the region’s marine environment. The court’s decision stopped all but one of the proposed major leases. The only one to move forward, Lease Sale 193, was allowed to do so because the federal government’s actual sale of the lease occurred before the lawsuit began. Cannon and her partners are now challenging that lease in federal court.
Cannon continues to be a force on Capitol Hill, standing up boldly against both industry and government during this election year, amid growing pressure to support domestic energy development and create new jobs. She and her environmental partners are galvanizing public opposition to provisions in the 2012-2017 federal plan that will allow Shell Oil to drill several exploration wells in the Chukchi Sea.