After completing most of my research, and formalizing my thoughts in a research proposal, I believe I can finally propose a working thesis. I believe the critical question in my topic, is how highly we should value Native American sovereignty, and relatedly, their right to self-governance. So far my research strongly suggests that it should be valued very highly. This allows for a working thesis: Native American sovereignty should be respected, by policymakers and regulators, by strongly considering Bristol Bay Native American opinion on Pebble.
This thesis might not sound very controversial, but in subtle ways it very much is. Firstly, Native American opinion is currently entirely ignored when it comes to regulatory and permitting decisions. Secondly, my thesis suggests that respecting Native American’s opinions could outweigh the enormous potential economic value of Pebble. While to some this might seem obvious, opinion on such a statement varies within our society. As well, it should be re-emphasized that the enormity of Pebble economic value makes it a tough argument to make.
I will begin by first elaborating on why my research has led me to value Native self-governance so highly. My argument here will take up most of the essay, as I feel as though this is the most crucial pillar in the argument. I will focus my essay on why respecting the Native right to self-governance is crucial in order for them to achieve the best possible outcomes moving forward.
I will spend the rest of the essay addressing key counterarguments. These will include counterarguments against the importance of Native American sovereignty, economic arguments in favor of Pebble, and more. I will use my previous research on ‘metrics’ in order to guide the discussion.
Lastly, I would like to point out that my working thesis is not an argument against the development of Pebble. Rather, it is an argument against the development of Pebble if Bristol Bay Native Americans are in opposition. I have chosen this specific working thesis because I believe it to be the cultural argument with the most potential. However, taking this line of argument seems to mean people (environmentalists) can’t have it both ways.
Link to infograph: https://drive.google.com/file/d/0B4X0shNTsz5gTThHNW5ERGFRY3M/view?usp=sharing
Overall, I think my presentation of the infograph was received well. However, I did receive a lot of constructive criticism, the most relevant of which I will discuss here. I was told by a few of my audience members that my infographic, linked above, was at times difficult to follow visually. This doesn’t directly apply to the RBA (as I don’t believe they found the oral delivery difficult to follow) but I think it does emphasize the convoluted nature of my topic, and therefore a need to be very clear and specific in my framing of the topic in the RBA. I was also told by some of my peers that, upon presenting the infographic, they felt like there were many directions I could ultimately take my RBA, and suggested I consider ways in which I could narrow the topic.
I think this marks a good transition into talking about how my research question has evolved as a result of presenting the infographic. In my initial written and oral research proposals, I discussed how my research had indicated potential reasons why Native American culture might especially be worth saving. I also discussed how these reasons could be linked concretely to metrics; for example I proposed ‘irreplaceability’ as a metric, and argued that Native American culture is especially irreplaceable. After that discussion, it seemed logical to focus my RBA to further probe the appropriateness of these metrics and then apply them to the Pebble mine case. In other words, the research question would be along the lines of: “Which metrics are applicable for evaluating the Pebble situation, and what do they indicate?”
However, research I did to create my infographic presents another possible direction. I’ve found that some of the metrics I’ve compiled can directly conflict with themselves or with other metrics. For example, many of my sources highlight the extent to which Bristol Bay Native American culture is tied to the environment. Many other sources emphasize the importance of Native American ‘governance’ in order to achieve sovereignty. This poses a conflict because in the case of Pebble, about 50% of Bristol Bay Native Americans support the construction of Pebble mine. As a result, I’m pondering focusing the RBA on a larger philosophical question, such as “How should policymakers proceed when a change will disrupt a (Native American) culture, but the (Native American) culture supports that change?”
Conscientious Objectors: Until after World War 2, Americans could only conscientiously object to military service on a religious basis. I would research the rhetoric that allowed for the transition to secular objection.
Homophobia in Poland: Research the rhetoric used in protest of homophobia, e.g. the repeated burning of the Warsaw rainbow (a gay pride symbol in Poland.)
Abortion in Poland: Research the rhetoric used to protest the proposed sweeping ban on abortion.
Fossil Fuel Stanford: Research the rhetoric used by FFS to encourage the Stanford Management Company to divest from fossil fuels. Research analogous arguments elsewhere and determine the validity of arguments with this structure.
Pebble Mine: The Pebble prospect is a stretch of land in Alaska containing North America’s largest un-mined gold and copper reserves. Mining would have a variety of positive effects, including job creation, increased local economic activity, and increased state tax revenue. However, the prospect is located next to wetlands that connect to one of the largest remaining salmon runs in Alaska. Mining requires the creation of huge amounts of acidic wastewater, which would have to be stored in a pit. Were this pit to leak, it would cause large amounts of damage to the nearby salmon run. Many activists, with good reason, argue that the potential damage to the salmon population and its resulting effect on the ecosystem are far too large a risk to allow mining to begin. Other activists also argue that it would destroy the way of life of fishermen and Native American descendants who rely on salmon for their livelihood.
I will hone in on this second argument, analyzing its rhetoric, and then trying to determine its validity. While obviously there is no merit in anyone losing their livelihood, this second argument seems to conflict with Jordan’s statement that activism must be forward-looking. I would also take a closer look at Jordan’s argument claiming “all differences are mere differences” (141). If it can be determined that not all differences are equally different in the context of activism, than this argument could hold.
The outcome of the battle for the Pebble prospect is likely to have huge implications, and thus debate is well-known to Alaskans. The project would also be timely because the project seems fairly likely to advance with the implementation of a new EPA director. Connections could also be made to other Native American activist movements seeking to protect the environment, such as the NDPL.
In Chapter 5 of “Activism!: Direct Action, Hacktivism and the Future of Society”, author Tim Jordan asserts that activists cannot be demanded to provide detailed plans for the future. According to him, there is a “tension between what is being created and the future that inspires it,” and since the details of this future are unknown, it is a “misunderstanding to demand such blueprints from activists” (Jordan, 138.)
Of the many activist campaigns we consider now to be successful, it seems unlikely that any given leader of such a campaign knew, from the get-go, the exact steps they would take to achieve success. It is for this reason, that I believe Jordan has made an important point. Simply because an activist movement does not have detailed future plans does not weaken their demands for change.
However, I would argue that leaders of successful activism campaigns probably have a reasonable “blueprint” for change when their movement begins. After all, activism demands change through the political system, and therefore it should have ideas of what sort of change politicians should make. I’m not implying that the entire burden of problem-solving should fall on activists rather than politicians, I believe such an idea would require much more investigation. Rather, I’m arguing that activists are much more likely to move politicians if they are able to provide reasonable courses of action that can achieve change.
So while demanding “detailed plans” from activists might be unreasonable, perhaps it is not so reasonable to demand some plans.