Women Climate Leaders: Caroline Cannon

In the small community of Point Hope, on the shores of the Chukchi Sea in the Arctic Circle, a community of 700 people lives sustainably. The Inupiat people rely entirely on the sea’s resources. A tradition passed down from generation to generation.

Elders are revered, teaching how to respect the land and the biodiversity that brings the village clothing, shelter, and food. This is where Caroline Cannon grew up.

A chosen leader

The Inupiat depend on marine life, specifically the bowhead whale. Cannon’s father was a successful captain who hunted and provided for her family. Chosen by the elders in her community, Cannon became a leader in Point Hope. For over 30 years, she has represented her father’s love for the ocean and taken on the duty to protect this region.

When global gas prices started climbing, oil companies wanted access to untapped oil reserves around Point Hope. The federal government agreed and presented plans to open offshore oil and gas leases. Cannon went into action.

Action for the Arctic

Cannon knew that one oil spill could ruin the entire ecosystem in her village. There are no protocols to deal with such environmental catastrophes in an ocean frozen half the year. Any mishap of this kind would desecrate the biodiversity of the local environment and destroy the Inupiat's way of life.

Traveling to Alaska and Washington, D.C. hundreds of times, Cannon pleaded her case at industry meetings and federal summits. Sharing her knowledge of the Arctic marine environment, she painted pictures of life in the region for others to empathize with and understand. Ultimately, she became the voice for the Inupiat people in a federal lawsuit challenging offshore oil and gas development plans.

An Inupiat and global victory

In court, Cannon was instrumental in bringing the case to victory. A federal judge ruled in her favor because the oil and gas leases had not adequately considered the potentially disastrous impacts on the marine ecosystem. It was a win for both the Inupiat and the global climate activist community.

Motivated by the future of her 26 grandchildren, this Daughter continues speaking for Indigenous communities on Capitol Hill. She was recognized for her work when awarded the 2012 Goldman Prize honoring grassroots environmental activists. Cannon and her work are also the focus of the short documentary The Arctic Garden.