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Vultures' Picnic: In Pursuit of Petroleum Pigs, Power Pirates, and High-Finance Carnivores

In his new book, journalist Greg Palast talks about his encounter with Etok, an Inupiat Alaskan fighting oil companies and their government backers.

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The Inupiat leader ordered nonalcoholic brews for us and took us to a corner of the empty barroom turned away from the stage. While a drugged blond giantess shook her stuff, Etok explained his purpose and his rules for our next day’s travel to a Native-only town within his nation above the Arctic Circle. The big girl, feeling ignored, put on a long winter coat and sat down with us, nodding, as perplexed as we were. 


There was whale blubber everywhere, and whale bones big as taxicabs along the inexplicably long air strip, and huge blocks of whale fat in driveways and in backyards among busted ATVs and diesel-powered dogsleds. Giant hunks of whale meat were strewn in front of the stilt houses, with a dog tied up next to each pile. The dogs are tethered, kept out all day, in case a polar bear wanders in for a whale-meat snack. The dogs will bark long enough, before being eaten, to warn the families inside.

While bouncing in the back of the four-wheeler taking us from the “airport,” James spotted a whale carcass. It was on a sand spit about a mile offshore. James was hot to film it. That sure would wow the network even if our London studios ended up getting picketed by untamed greenies. Etok dropped us at the bunkhouse built for visiting white people. He took in James’s request to visit the carcass and said we would be escorted there in Akootchook’s boat. Akootchook is the local Deputy Chief. Akootchook, word came back, agreed to take us, but for now, the Chief was on a conference call with lawyers.

We had arrived right on the autumnal equinox, when endless day tips into endless night, and James fretted about losing the sunlight needed for filming. I knew enough to nap until further notice, and Rick quietly filmed lots of the icy emptiness.

James, seeing the precious daylight dying, asked Etok if he could tell the Chief to hurry up a bit.

Oh shit oh God no, James.


Well, I figured James had to get a taming sometime, so at least that was now out of the way. James sat quietly, head down . . . while I listened with great care to Intelligence Chief Harry Lord and the tale of “How Kaktovik Lost the Cold War.” 

In 1947, the U.S. Air Force told the Inupiat of Kaktovik to get the fuck out.

The U.S. military needed a big runway in case the Russians attacked America over the polar ice cap.

Kaktovik’s island was an interesting choice. You can fly a hundred miles in any direction from Kaktovik and you’ll find absolutely nothing. Nevertheless, the Air Force had to have that one single spot, the lone Eskimo village, within this vast emptiness. The Natives, by proving the location both geologically stable and weather-worthy, had placed a “steal me” sign on their homes.

Chief Akootchook, father of the current Chief Akootchook, sued to block the Natives’ expulsion.

The military responded with a beach landing, a kind of mini D-Day on ice. The United States Marines came ashore on the skinny peninsula at the island’s end. The invaders brought a bulldozer. Then, one by one, the GI’s earthmover pushed each and every Inupiat house into the Arctic Sea. It must have taken quite some time. There were more than a hundred homes on that land spit.

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