Biden Admin Sells Out Aleut Village to Save Face Over Oil Deal
18 residents of king cove, alaska have died because they don’t have a road to the nearest all weather airport. the first native american interior secretary just made sure that won’t change.
A small Aleut village in Alaska, dangerously isolated from the rest of the country, wants a road to the nearest airport so they can make it to the hospital in times of medical emergency. Unfortunately for them, environmentalists believe this will harm the local wildlife. Caving to pressure, the Biden Administration has sided with the local bird habitats.
River Page reports.
Conversations were edited for brevity and clarity.
Environmentalists have been fighting for decades to keep a small native village with no road out isolated from the rest of the country. Earlier this month, with Biden’s help, they won.
In June 2019, Trump’s Department of Interior entered into a land-swap agreement with the King Cove Corporation, a Native Alaskan group, which would have permitted the construction of a road closing the 12-mile gap between King Cove, Alaska — a remote Aleut Village — and the Cold Bay airport. The residents of King Cove need the road badly. The initial agreement noted that since 2013 there had been 101 medical evacuations from King Cove since December 23, 2013, including 21 by the U.S. Coast Guard, because commercial medevac carriers determined it was too dangerous to fly into King Cove. The agreement also recognized that people had died trying to travel between King Cove and the Cold Bay airport for medevac transport to Anchorage. Despite the seriousness of the issue to the people of King Cove, it appears that the Biden administration has scuttled the deal for political reasons.
The hypothetical road between King Cove and Cold Bay would go through the Izembek National Wildlife Refuge, which has irked environmental groups who say it would disrupt the habitats of birds and other wildlife in the area. Challenges by environmental organizations have kept the 2019 land swap deal stuck in the courts for the last four years. Finally, in November 2022, the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals vacated a prior ruling which would have cleared the way for road construction, agreeing to rehear the case — an outcome that Biden’s DOJ had opposed, arguing to the court in August that the well-being of King Cove residents outweighed the impacts of the road in Izembek reserve. But then, on March 13, 2023, the Biden administration approved The Willow Project, a $7B oil and gas project by Conoco-Philips in the National Petroleum Reserve in Alaska. This infuriated environmentalist groups, who quickly filed two lawsuits against the project. One day later, Biden’s Interior Department rescinded the King Cove Land Swap agreement.
“We’ve been fighting for this road my entire life,” 30-year-old King Cove resident Maria Dosal told me over the phone. She said “basically everyone” she knew had been affected by the inability to travel to the Cold Bay airport during medical emergencies, including family members, friends, and local children with respiratory issues.
Over the past 25 years, Congress has attempted to address the issue twice, first with the King Cove Health and Safety Act of 1998 and then again in 2007 when it appropriated $37.5 million to the Aleutians East Borough to improve transportation between King Cove and Cold bay and medical care within the village of King Cove — presumably to keep fewer people from having to travel out of town for medical care. The 1998 bill was virtually useless. As the 2019 agreement put it, “The King Cove Health and Safety Act of 1998 neither served as a meaningful vehicle in accomplishing a land exchange for the purposes of subsequent road construction nor provided any viable alternative that improved public safety for the residents of King Cove.” The federal funding in 2007 gave residents a hovercraft that served as the primary marine connection between villagers and the outside world from 2007 until 2010, when its operating costs (approximately $3 million per year) proved unsustainable, according to the 2019 agreement. As of 2015 the hovercraft was in storage in Akutan, awaiting a buyer.
Maria said the dirt runway on King Cove is small, and even the small bush planes that it can accommodate are often prevented from flying in due to strong wind tunnels that form in the skies over King Cove. On the other hand, despite its tiny population (around 50 residents), Cold Bay has the 5th largest runway in Alaska. This is because the airport was originally built as a military airfield during WW2. When I asked Maria about the Biden administration's decision to scuttle the deal, that history featured prominently in her response:
I sometimes like to think of it in terms of precedent. The government during World War II made all these different developments, and then basically, when the war was over, they destroyed them all and buried them under Cold Bay. And then left all these relics. And so what precedent does that set in our little community when they’re able to come in and do whatever they want, throw it all back under the earth, and then leave? So there's that history there with the government coming into territory where we didn’t want them, basically, I mean we were happy for the protection from the United States obviously, but like… but don’t come and just… it's disgusting. If you go to Cold Bay, there’s shrapnel coming out of the earth basically everywhere you look if you look hard enough.
As for the claim that the roads would disrupt wildlife in the Izembek National Wildlife Refuge, Maria said that there were already roads that go through other parts of the refuge and that:
The United States Fish and Wildlife has access to ride on those roads whenever they want [and can drive in] active migration zones within the Izembek National Wildlife Refuge whenever they like. King Cove is just asking for a piece of the pie and to put the road through. And as far as the migration of birds, people in King Cove have a subsistence value, they put marked emphasis on subsistence living and have respect for the animals and aren’t going to go off the road and shoot them all up, you know what I mean?
It comes down to what they [the government] want to look like to the rest of the world, and ultimately, it's just a big facade.
The largely Indigenous residents of King Cove had previously honored Deb Haaland as a trailblazer — she is the first Native American woman to head the Department of Interior — and when she visited the village in 2022, they held a traditional naming ceremony. Haaland’s name? Tang^ag^im Anadaa, meaning “mother bear.” The people of King Cove spent hours making their case to Haaland — which only makes her canned statement on the rescinded land deal all the more ironic. Here it is in full:
The debate around approving the construction of a road to connect the people of King Cove to life-saving resources has created a false choice, seeded over many years, between valuing conservation and wildlife or upholding our commitments to Indigenous communities. I reject that binary choice. I am a lifelong conservationist, and I believe deeply in the need to protect our lands and waters and honor our obligations to Tribal Nations. Respecting Tribal sovereignty means ensuring that we are listening – really listening – to Tribal communities. I have instructed my team to immediately launch a process to review previous proposals for a land exchange, rooted in a commitment to engagement in meaningful nation-to-nation consultation with Tribes, to protecting the national wildlife refuge system, and to upholding the integrity of ANILCA’s subsistence and conservation purposes.
Was Deb Haaland not listening — really listening — to the indigenous people of King Cove during her visit last year? Residents have made it abundantly clear that they want a road, and outside environmentalists have made it abundantly clear that — despite weather conditions frequently preventing the medical evacuations of King Cove residents, a death sentence for 18 people since 1980 — they think the road is unnecessary.
The tone with which environmentalists refer to the people of King Cove is patronizing at best. David C. Raskin, president of the Friends of Alaska Wildlife Refuges, a key critic, called the road a “decades-long-misguided effort,” implying that the rural Aleuts of King Cove simply don’t know what’s best for them. Haaland’s word salad about rejecting the “binary choice” between “upholding commitments to Indigenous communities” and conservation is nonsense. She has chosen to deny a community of Indigenous people a badly needed dirt road through their ancestral lands because outsiders are worried about birds. She made this choice, conveniently, at the precise same time the Biden administration needed to throw a bone to environmentalists after caving to the demands of a multinational oil company just one day before. The “racist” Trump administration gave the largely indigenous people of King Cove what they’d been asking for since the 1980s — and Deb Haaland, the first Native American Interior Secretary, took it away from them so her boss could get a slight PR boost with granola munching whites. Democrats are very comfortable with the politics of “representation” because they know how empty they are — they know Deb Haaland will always be a Democrat first and an Indian second.
Now the Aleuts in King Cove know it too.
So, these people can't put a dirt road through a space to get to a hospital, but there are already dirt roads being used by the government? Sounds completely reasonable. 🙄😠
Grew up in a logging town in the Pacific Northwest. Every man in my family basically lived off the timber industry. All us kids would go out and plant new trees on Arbor Day like it was an actual holiday. Whole world shut down when the spotted owl stuff happened. No matter how over simplified or deluded the crazy environmentalists just kept winning. Not even the ones where you’re like “you know that makes sense, fair enough.” Just bugfuck nuts people who prefer a world in which no one does anything useful. That’s when I first realized the feelings of some rich lady in New York had enormous power over my life.
Everyone was out of work. Teen pregnancy shot up. Girls I went to school with became prostitutes in middle school. Schizo homeless people were everywhere.
I would beat every single one of these birds to death with a hammer to save the life of one criminal from that village.