The Alaska Dispatch News reports Edward Itta, a prominent North Slope leader, died Sunday of cancer. Itta was mayor of the North Slope Borough from 2005 to 2011, when Shell was seeking oil leases and permits for offshore Arctic development.
Author Bob Reiss featured Itta is his book "The Eskimo and the Oil Man; The Battle at the Top of the World for America's Future." In a talk on stage with Itta at the 2012 Arctic Imperative Summit in Girdwood, Reiss likened the opening of the Arctic to historic struggles for control of the Middle East.
“Over a hundred years ago, Rudyard Kipling, the British writer, coined the phrase 'the great game,'” said Reiss. “The great game is the story of the way the powers on earth, the great powers, duke it out in remote areas for dominance of the planet.”
Reiss said opening the Arctic raises questions about international borders, international jurisdiction, free maritime passage, and more.
“The greatest migrations of sea mammals on earth occurring here, the Bowhead whale, the walrus, all the animals that the Inupiat people depend on -- all this important stuff in the great game,” said Reiss. “But who haven't we talked about yet? We haven't talked about the greatest component, the Inupiat people, the people who live there, the people in the middle.”
Itta got the Borough a seat at the table with federal regulators and Shell. He forged agreements to halt operations during whale migrations, and to get oil moved through the TransAlaska Pipeline rather than tankers. He pushed for a stronger Coast Guard presence, more scientific research, and better regulation of marine transportation.
But Itta said looking back on his life spent "chasing whales and caribou, and fishing," he thought of Sitting Bull's refusal to sign a treaty giving up his people's homelands.
“He knew it would place his tribe into cultural bankruptcy. So his decision was clear,” said Itta. “He was a Lakota Indian. He was meant to hunt buffalo, and when told to report to the reservation he refused.”
Itta said he too, at heart, was a traditional man.
“I am Edward Saggan Itta, an Inupiat Eskimo, a hunter and a whaler and like Sitting Bull, I'm not gonna go to that reservation,” said Itta.
Itta served in a number of leadership roles. He was a member of the U.S. Arctic Research Commission, and past president of the Inuit Circumpolar Council-Alaska. He headed or served on the Outer Continental Shelf Policy Committee, Barrow Whaling Captains Association, and Alaska Eskimo Whaling Commission as well as the North Slope School Board, and the federal Subsistence Advisory Council for Northern Alaska.
Edward Itta was 71.