Posted by: jblevins | September 30, 2009

Environmental Justice for the Yupik People

From September 19-26, a delegation of Presbyterian Indigenous Yupik tribal leaders, youth and elders from the Arctic/Bering Sea villages of St. Lawrence Island, Alaska came to Washington D.C. They shared their history, culture, and the importance of their traditional diet of foods for physical and spiritual sustenance. They spoke with people of faith, environmental justice and health advocates and government officials at a forum held at the United Methodist Building on September 22nd. Additionally, they met with members of Congress, the Environmental Protection Agency and the military to educate and discuss solutions, such as community-based research, to the challenges they face.

The former military based on the Island disposed of toxic waste on the Island, including massive amounts of fuels, solvents, poly-chlorinated biphenols (PCBs), pesticides, and heavy metals. The contamination still causes illnesses in the community and in the rest of God’s Creation in the Arctic including increased rates of cancer as the chemicals persist in the environment. Some people have been displaced from their land due to the contamination. Despite this, the community is still grateful for the role that the military played in protecting them during the Cold War.

Yupik representatives danicing near the US Capitol

Yupik representatives danicing near the US Capitol

In addition, the Arctic has become a hemispheric sink for persistent chemicals that travel hundreds of miles into the region and accumulate in the bodies of wildlife and people. “The Indigenous Arctic peoples are suffering the most from these chemicals,” says Vi Waghiyi, a Yupik woman from St. Lawrence Island, “because the chemicals – pesticides, perfluorinated compounds and toxic flame retardants, to—are long lasting, and drift North on wind and water currents from where they are applied in the Southern latitudes. That means these chemicals are also in our traditional foods and affecting our health and the health of our children.”

The delegation from St. Lawrence Island calls upon policy makers to hold the military and chemical industry accountable for violations of human rights. They urged policy makers to assist in their community-based research and advocacy efforts to protect the health of present and future generations.

The Yupik community is working with the Alaska Community Action on Toxics to seek justice.  Learn more

The Presbyterian Church USA also did a resolution in support of the Yupik. Read it.

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