When she began working as a health aide at a clinic in the tiny Arctic village of Nuiqsut, Alaska, Rosemary Ahtuangaruak got into the practice of counting.
She counted how many people lived in the Alaska Native village at the time: 323. She counted how many women were expecting children; how many kids had heart disease. “One of the other things I counted was how many people use medicine to help them breathe,” Ahtuangaruak told audience members at a recent symposium at the University of New Mexico. “I started in 1986: one. But by 2000, there were already 75. I had to start staying up all night to help people breathe.”
The respiratory ailments plaguing her community seemed to be linked to nearby fossil fuel extraction. She noticed conditions worsened when there were high volumes of natural gas flares associated with oil and gas processing. “In Nuiqsut,” Ahtuangaruak said, “we’re completely surrounded by oil and gas development.”
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