It’s easy to visualize resource development in the Alaska National Wildlife Refuge. We can all picture the effects on the landscape, habitat and wildlife from industry operating in that area.

What’s harder to see is the cost of not taking action. That price is paid by many people and spread around the American population and beyond.

Should development in the ANWR prove to be a financially beneficial opportunity, the price of not developing in the region means a poorer economy otherwise, with poorer people who have fewer opportunities.

We can see the caribou that would be impacted by development but it’s much harder to see the people who are hurt by the lack of development, though that doesn’t make them any less real.

For the Gwich’in, the caribou are more than a loved animal and are instead a proxy for their people and at the core of their identity.

That’s an extremely sensitive subject that is difficult for anyone without such a history to relate to. It can’t be discounted. Considering the history of Indigenous relations in North America, it should be at the forefront of any conversation on the subject.

Putting a price on that and trying to balance out which side is more important is just about impossible and better left to the democratic process.

However, Gwich’in Tribal Council president Bobbie Jo Greenland-Morgan thinks the current push to open up the ANWR in the U.S. is undemocratic.

It’s democratic in the sense that a democratically elected government is going through a democratic process to write legislation, but democracy itself is plagued by short-term incentives and constant rewriting of the rules.

The longest that most of these politicians will be in office is a handful of years. They’re not thinking about what happens in 50 years, but what happens before the next election. Democracy has resulted in people voting themselves money and voting for their kids to pay for it.

Omnibus bills, pork barrel spending, and slipping special interests into larger legislation have just become a part of democratic life in the West, as disconcerting as that is.

Greenland-Morgan may have a point about the undemocratic nature of the Americans’ tax cut bill including legislation on the ANWR. It’s something former Reform MP Stephen Harper brought up before he was prime minister, and in November this year current federal House Speaker Geoff Regan split up the Liberal government’s budget bill so that it could be voted on separately.

Whether what’s going on is considered democratic or not, the Gwich’in are as right to express their concern in the case as anyone else.

Even if legislation to open up the ANWR does pass, Greenland-Morgan made it very clear that won’t be the end of the story.

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