The North Slope Iñupiat: the Original Alaskans

The North Slope Iñupiat are the among the original people of Alaska.

MYTH: The North Slope Iñupiat are not the North Slope’s original inhabitants. 

FACT: Research suggests that the Iñupiat have stewarded our North Slope homelands for around 10,000 years.

Our ancestors moved across the North Slope seasonally, practicing subsistence hunting and gathering to survive in America’s harshest climate. We continue these practices to sustain our communities and culture today.

MYTH: The North Slope Iñupiat supported ANCSA’s passage. 

FACT: The North Slope Iñupiat opposed ANCSA, even writing a letter to President Nixon urging him to veto the bill, as it denied a fair and just land settlement for our region. 

ANCSA recognized a fraction of our land claims. This is important, because the North Slope Iñupiat knew that Alaska’s economy was going to be developed on our ancestral homelands following the discovery of America’s largest deposits of commercial quantities of oil in the late 1960s on the North Slope. This discovery fast-tracked the passage of ANCSA; think about that, the discovery of oil fast-tracked aboriginal land claims, nothing else.  

Since oil production began on the North Slope, the region has served and continues to be the economic engine for Alaska, with over 95% of Alaska’s crude oil production occurring in the region.  

MYTH: The North Slope Borough’s tax revenue is dependent on oil production.

FACT: The North Slope Borough’s tax revenue is derived from taxing infrastructure and is unaffected by oil production outputs. 

For our people, the ability to tax infrastructure has revolutionized our way of life. Residents have experienced the largest increase in life expectancy in the U.S. over the past two decades, thanks to economic development that led to expanded access to modern amenities and medical care.  

Yet life in one of the state’s most remote regions remains challenging. Income levels are high thanks to economic development over the past 50 years in our region, but the value of a dollar is impacted by high local inflation. Many in our communities struggle financially due to costs of living that are shockingly higher than big cities like Chicago, Houston, or Miami. A gallon of milk costs upwards of $14.99, or 273% more than it does in the Lower 48. Inter-community travel is primarily by sparse air transportation, an added expense due to the lack of a permanent road system in our region. Furthermore, access to essential services — such as healthcare, mental health support, water and waste management — is not equally shared by all villages. In some cases, a simple visit to the doctor for an annual checkup could mean a multi-day air itinerary with added hotel costs.  

MYTH: The North Slope is very wealthy and able to afford luxuries that other Alaskans cannot.

FACT: North Slope residents, like many other rural Alaskans, struggle to afford basic necessities like housing, with some homeowners spending as much as 50% of their income on mortgage costs alone.

The North Slope can be especially challenging for our youth, who are critical to our future and the preservation of our Iñupiaq cultural traditions. Without equitable access to recreational spaces, educational opportunities, or good paying jobs, it is difficult to engage and encourage our children to achieve success in their ancestral homelands and remain on the North Slope. 

MYTH: North Slope Iñupiat children live idyllic childhoods in an unspoiled wilderness.

FACT: There are not enough activities for our children, as no formal childcare facilities exist, and many recreational facilities are insufficiently maintained to host engaging youth programs.

We will work hard and adapt to meet these challenges, as we have done in our millennia of life on the North Slope. We invite you to join us.



VOICE was established in 2015 by the region’s collective elected Iñupiat leadership to educate Americans about our people and speak with a unified voice on issues impacting our communities, our economy, and our culture.