As the US begins marking Native American heritage month, it is worth considering that both modern day realities and historic precedent demonstrate ways in which climate change is driving major geopolitical shifts. Nowhere is that more apparent, says Richard Glenn, former executive vice president of external and government affairs at the Arctic Slope Regional Corp, than in Alaska. Glenn recently spoke with Rodger Baker, the executive director of the Stratfor Center for Applied Geopolitics at RANE.
“If you look at a map of how many planes are in the air, just take a look at how many of them fly over the North Pole at any given time. Or if you look at the current issues of national security. But that doesn't take away the fact that it's our home.”
Native Alaskans are at the apex of climate-driven environmental challenges that threaten their way of life. They are also at the center of a strategic and geopolitical power struggle over the broader Arctic region as China, Russia and the United States race to secure maritime routes, minerals and other strategic opportunities.
Glenn says “Basically there's a swath of indigenous people that are related by lifestyle and geography and family and kinship that it outstrips any single national interest. And yet [our home] and we are witness to these great struggles on a national scale.
The Arctic is at a crossroads, he says, but no one is better able to understand the historic opportunities and challenges present for the United States than Native Alaskans.
“Up until the 1920s, for example, the concept of burying your dead didn't exist. So when we go out hunting on the tundra or go down the coast in a boat, we cross the bones of our ancestors frequently. They're everywhere. Every place in Alaska has been crossed by our feet, the feet of our ancestors. [This huge geographic region] looks pristine. We know it is not pristine. We know it has been occupied by our ancestors and other groups for countless generations.”
Listen to this podcast from the Stratfor Center for Applied Geopolitics at RANE, and hear more from Richard Glenn as well as Julie Kitka, president of the Alaska Federation of Natives, about the issues facing Alaska Natives amid climate change and a great power struggle over their heritage.