Gail Norton: Switchin’ on Gwich’in

In her farewell note to Interior Department staff, Secretary Gail Norton waxed poetic about the Gwich’in people who live just south of the Arctic Circle:

America is blessed by its cultural complexity. … I was struck by a statement made by a Gwichin elder in Arctic Village, Alaska. Her people live a subsistence lifestyle, relying mainly on migrating caribou. She said she wanted her grandchildren a thousand years from now to live the same way.

But Norton wasn’t nearly as respectful when the Gwich’in were standing in the way of her drilling plans. Norton was angry that the Gwich’in did not support the Bush administration’s plan for drilling in the Arctic. Shortly after visiting a Gwich’in village in 2001, she gave a speech that said the Gwich’ins were making life harder for “children throughout America”:

If the group’s goal is to continue their subsistence lifestyle for generations, that is certainly their choice. … But that choice also impacts others. The children throughout America, their lives will be affected by these decisions as well whether they will have heat for their homes, whether they will have jobs in a prosperous economy.

Norton’s farewell letter is clearly an effort to cast herself in a favorable light, but the facts of her tenure remain clear: she was the “administration’s biggest advocate for opening the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge on Alaska’s North Slope to oil drilling.” And she didn’t let anyone slow her down.

Think Progress has the full text of Norton’s letter HERE.