Writing Activism: Project Chariot and the People of Point Hope

My lesson, “Writing Activism: Project Chariot and the People of Point Hope,” draws on Culturally Responsive Curriculum Standard E: situating local knowledge and actions in a global context.

Standard E encourages students to “think globally, act locally.” My students will learn about Project Chariot and the successful opposition mounted by the Inupiat of Point Hope. They will take on the role of Inupiat activists, and will write letters of protest directed at a specific audience. My hope is that students will come to understand that acting on a local level, even in the most remote areas of Alaska, can have global results.

Project Chariot, the 1958 AEC proposal to blast a harbor in the coast of Alaska using buried nuclear bombs, would have sent unprecedented levels of fallout drifting over North America and the Arctic. To put the plan in context, here is Dan O’Neill comparing the plan to Sedan, a nuclear test in Nevada:

A shot the size of Sedan, fired at Ogotoruk Creek, could have dropped radioactive fallout over the entire length of the North Slope of Alaska, or penetrated 1,000 miles into Siberia…The Chariot shot, at its smallest configuration (280 kilotons), would have been nearly three times as powerful as Sedan. At its largest configuration, Chariot would have been twenty-four times larger (O’Neill, 1994, p. 275).

At the time when it was first proposed, Chariot seemed very likely to go through. Without the Inupiat and their determination to defend their land rights and protect their environment, it most likely would have gone through. The consequences would have been devastating, not only for the Inupiat, but for the rest of the world as well.

The Inupiat succeeded for two reasons. First, they were willing to oppose Chariot with everything they had, even when they seemed to be the only opponents. And second, they made an effort to raise awareness and gather allies from all over the country. By the time Chariot was abandoned in 1962, it had many vocal opponents – but the organized resistance to the plan started with the people of Point Hope and their refusal to be manipulated by the AEC. I hope that the example of the Inupiat will inspire my students to see themselves as members of a global community of activists.

I’m attaching three slideshows that go with this lesson, so that the teacher can give a series of brief presentations on the history behind Chariot. The first one introduces the idea of Project Chariot, without giving any details beyond the project itself. The second one gives the history and rationale behind the project. The third – to be used at the end of the lesson, after the students have written their letters – explains how the Inupiat were eventually able to defeat Chariot.

Slideshow A

Slideshow B

Slideshow C

Edited to add: I forgot to credit Mischa Jackson for the idea behind this lesson. When I brought up the idea of doing a lesson on Project Chariot, Mischa immediately suggested centering the lesson on activism and having the students write letters. I thought it was a great idea, so I used it.

2 thoughts on “Writing Activism: Project Chariot and the People of Point Hope”

  1. Hey Katy this is a great lesson, I can’t imagine nuclear bombs being set off in Alaska. The people of point hope really rallied around a cause and you could even expand this unit into how students can rally for a cause in an appropriate ways. Many times youth don’t know how to fight for something they believe in, whether that means speaking for city council meetings or writing to local senators. How can we make a difference? How can our students make a difference? We need to teach them how.

  2. This is such a well-crafted lesson plan. It was cool to watch your lesson plan transform over time as you honed your idea. I like how you incorporated research, critical thinking, creativity, activism, writing, and social studies into one lesson. This is such an important topic of history that is almost completely overlooked in school; it was great to see your lesson draw attention to it and teach students the value and power of activism.

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