Mon, July 22, 2013

Preserving the Legacy of the Exxon Valdez Oil Spill

By Anjuli Grantham
“The oil spill’s impact on the psychosocial environment was as significant as its impact on the physical environment.”
—Lawrence Palinkas et al. “Community Patters of Psychiatric Disorders after the Exxon Valdez Oil Spill”
I was just in 2nd grade when the crude oil from the hull of the Exxon Valdez coated the water and coastline from Prince William Sound down to Kodiak. I remember booms used to contain the spread of oil floating in the sea, shouting matches amongst friends and family about clean up contracts, and the years of anxiously, then increasingly despondently, waiting for settlement money.

Toby Sullivan and his daughter, Jordan,
join other Kodiak community members
in a 1989 protest against Exxon’s clean
up response in Kodiak. Image courtesy
Kodiak Historical Society.

Nearly 25 years have passed since coastal Alaskan communities were decimated by the oil spill and the environmental and social repercussions left in its wake, yet it is a recent pain for many Alaskans. “It’s still too raw,” a journalist/ fisherman recently told me as we reflected on the event in our community.
Around the state of Alaska, historical societies, government agencies, and individuals have initiated projects to preserve the history of the spill and reflect on its impacts. For example, as previously mentioned in this blog, the Alaska State Archives is completing the monumental task of processing the Exxon Valdez litigation materials. Moreover, in 2011 the Valdez Museum expanded its permanent exhibit about the spill. The exhibit features a piece of the Exxon Valdez oil tanker’s hull and the diverse perspectives of Valdez community members impacted by the event.
“Children of the Spills” is an oral history project conceived of and completed by Katie Aspen of Homer. After the Deepwater Horizon oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico, she envisioned that the experiences and reflections of those who were children during the Exxon Valdezdisaster could bring healing to the children affected in the Gulf. She also hoped that the oral histories could provide guidance to the parents and support networks of children impacted by oil spills. In “Children of the Spills,” Aspen preserves voices of Alaskans and children from the Gulf of Mexico, recording a perspective often neglected by historians- that of kids.
Recently, the Baranov Museum in Kodiak acquired materials that will help us to preserve the legacy of the spill in our region. The Kodiak Daily Mirror donated their collection of photographs taken during 1989, depicting protests, clean up efforts, and public meetings. Moreover, we received a protest banner that is so large that it could only have been hung from the ceiling or outside of a building.

A large Exxon Valdez protest banner,
recently donated to the Baranov Museum. 

What other materials related to the Exxon Valdez oil spill are hiding in closets around the state and Outside? Although for many, the oil spill is “still too raw,” it is now time to boost our efforts to collect and preserve this critical event in Alaska’s recent past.
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