Today’s New York Times web site features a slideshow that highlights an emerging dilemma in Point Hope. Alaska.

Climate change is melting permafrost and creating access to the enormous reserves of oil that lie under the ice cap. 13% of the world’s oil is stored in this pristine area. Not to mention minerals and precious metals such as iron, gold and diamonds.

Now, Indigenous peoples face a choice – preserve the lands they love and that their forebears inhabited for thousands of years; or sign up to extract the vast wealth of natural resources under their feet and improve the economic nightmare that has resulted in shocking suicide rates in their communities.

According to national Inuit organization Inuit Tapiriit Kamatami, the suicide rate among Inuit is 11 times the national average, and life expectancy is about 15 years lower than among Canadians overall.

Now, the Obama administration has lifted its moratorium on offshore drilling, and Shell Oil is applying for permits. The Point Hope community has fought for the environment before, but now leaders think this may be an answer to the very real problems the community is dealing with.

As climate change progresses, we must query the logic of drilling and burning more oil. But how else can the Northern peoples alleviate their problems? These are tough questions that require serious thought.

ACT is building projects for 2012 that will work with Indigenous peoples in the North on topics such as country food patterns changing, and the need for standards to ensure water is protected no matter what development happens.

Our current Water report looks at the Government of the Northwest Territories’ groundbreaking water strategy, Northern Voices, Northern Waters, which was developed with full participation from Indigenous peoples in the territory.