The Aleutian Pribilof Islands Association, a nonprofit organization that represents native Aleuts in Alaska has rejected lower cost heating oil from Venezuela because of (T)Hugo Chavez's remarks at the UN. These are among the poorest people in the entire state of Alaska and they pay some of the highest oil prices because of the high cost of transportation.
And yet a few villages are refusing free heating oil from Venezuela, on the patriotic principle that no foreigner has the right to call their president "the devil."
The heating oil is being offered by the petroleum company controlled by Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez,'s nemesis. While scores of Alaska's Eskimo and Indian villages say they have no choice but to accept, others would rather suffer.
"As a citizen of this country, you can have your own opinion of our president and our country. But I don't want a foreigner coming in here and bashing us," said Justine Gunderson, administrator for the tribal council in the Aleut village of Nelson Lagoon. "Even though we're in economically dire straits, it was the right choice to make."
Nelson Lagoon residents pay more than $5 a gallon for oil — or at least $300 a month per household — to heat their homes along the wind-swept coast of the Bering Sea, where temperatures can dip to minus-15. About one-quarter of the 70 villagers are looking for work, in part because Alaska's salmon fishing industry has been hit hard by competition from fish farms.
The donation to Alaska's native villages has focused attention on the rampant poverty and high fuel prices in a state that is otherwise awash in oil — and oil profits. In 2005, 86 percent of the Alaska's general fund, or $2.8 billion, came from oil from the North Slope.
The Aleutian Pribilof Islands Association, a native nonprofit organization that would have handled the heating oil donation on behalf of 291 households in Nelson Lagoon, Atka, St. Paul and St. George, rejected the offer because of the insults Chavez has hurled at Bush.
Maine has also refused any dealings with Citgo. About 150 Aleut villages have accepted the aid from Citgo (and it is hard to fault them, please do not take it that way). But I have to tell you, the action by the the Aleutian Pribilof Islands Association is one that makes me proud.
The Association's website is here. If you can spare a few bucks, I'm sure they can find a good use for it. If you can't afford to send money, a thank you email would probably be appreciated.