Project Jukebox

Digital Branch of the University of Alaska Fairbanks Oral History Program

Andrew Oenga

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Andrew Oenga


"My name is Andrew Oenga. I am now sixty-nine years old and I live by making baleen baskets at my home in Utqiaġvik. I am concerned about the Exxon Duck Island Unit No. 1 gravel pad and wildcat well (hereafter "Exxon offshore well") because my Native allotment includes the parcel of land at Aġliqvurak (Point Brower). Aġliqvurak is just a few miles away from the Exxon offshore well. I started using the Aġliqvurak land in 1932, when I built a sod house there. I lived there year round in the 1930s, and at that time I hunted and trapped over the entire Prudhoe Bay area and Steffanson Sound area. I continued hunting and trapping there in all seasons after I moved to Utqiaġvik in 1942 when my wife got sick. I filed my Native allotment application for Aġliqvurak and for Heald Point at Prudhoe Bay on August 13, 1970. Exxon Corporation and four other oil companies contested my application, but the Bureau of Land Management granted me title to my native allotment on October 1, 1975.

I have had trouble in my legs since 1967, so I have not been able to check my allotment land recently. Exxon knew I had title to Aġliqvurak when they started their offshore well, but I was never informed of their operations. I know what oil company operations can do to landowners nearby, from what happened at Aġliqvurak when the companies were building the Trans-Alaska Pipeline. The U.S. Geological Survey map of the area, based on a satellite photo from July, 1970, shows clearly that a landing strip, oil storage tanks and a winter road were put on Aġliqvurak. A lot of gravel from the Point must have been used in that construction, yet the oil companies never informed me nor offered to pay any compensation to me for what has been done to my land. I have seen pictures that show that the landing strip and the oil storage pad can still be seen on my land. I am worried about what Exxon's operations for the Duck Island Unit well are now doing to my Native allotment and the wildlife in the area.

From my decades of experience with the weather and the wildlife use of the Aġliqvurak area, I know that wildlife is present in the area throughout the winter, and that even more birds and wildlife use the area starting in late April. I know that seals use the lagoon area near Aġliqvurak in the winter. The seals overwinter under the ice where there is water for them to swim and to use for catching the fish which are overwintering in the same area. The seals keep breathing holes open in the ice by using their head and flippers. The seals climb out through these holes to rest on the ice. I could see the seals on the ice from my sod house at Aġliqvurak when I was living there. Mother seals would haul out on the ice near Aġliqvurak at pupping time in late April. I saw them on the ice because the ice is flat in this area during most years. The mother seals let snow drift over them, so the polar bears would not see them, and they stay on the ice until pupping is done.

Because the seals use the lagoon area near both Aġliqvurak and Heald Point where there is free water underneath the ice, polar bears and the arctic foxes are also in the area to hunt the seals. I often saw polar bear tracks when I hunted the seals. The seals will use the icea area as far nearshore as there is open water underneath the ice in the winter months. The wildlife in the Aġliqvurak area gets much greater in late April when the birds return to the Sagvaġniqtuuq River delta, and when the hibernating ground squirrels wake up. Seagulls, ducks, and ptarmigan arrive in the delta area near Aġliqvurak by late April, and all three kinds of birds are nesting in late May, while there is still snow on the ground. Bearded seals also return to the Aġliqvurak area in late April.

I have seen that in some years there is a very strong west wind in the winter that will open a channel of open water just outside the barrier islands even though it is still wintertime. The seals use such open leads in addition to their breathing holes farther in the lagoon, during those years.

The ice near Aġliqvurak and the Exxon well gets very dangerous after the flooding over the ice from the Sagvaġniqtuuq River. During my years at Aġliqvurak in the 1930s, I saw that when the springtime weather is very warm, the river may flood as soon as early May. My trips across the ice could be done safely with my dogteam until the end of April, but by early May, I would always be watching carefully for the flooding from the river. When the flooding begins from the river ice break-up, it all happens very suddenly, and I would not want to be caught on the ice at that time.

I also depend on the bowhead whale for an important part of my diet and also for my livelihood of making baleen baskets. From 1943 to 1960, I hunted whales as a crewmember at Utqiaġvik. In 1939, I was hunting seal with several other Utqiaġvik hunters at Pitt Point, just west of Cape Halkett. We saw bowhead whales migrating in a lead off Pitt Point during that trip, which we took in late April. I believe from my experience that bowhead whales would reach the leads far offshore from Prudhoe Bay by early May. I know that the whales are migrating back along the barrier islands off Prudhoe Bay by late September. If the Exxon well harms the bowhead whale, both my diet and my livelihood will be hurt." (pp 181-182)