Gwich’in Seek to Protect Arctic Wildlife Refuge

espect Gwich’in Human Rights. Left to right are Michelle Piñon, Myra Thumma, Virgina Peter and Miho Aida.

Respect Gwich’in Human Rights. Left to right are Michelle Piñon, Myra Thumma, Virgina Peter and Miho Aida.

The Gwich’in Steering Committee (GSC) invites friends and allies to join it to celebrate the 58th Anniversary of the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge (the Refuge). The Refuge, which spans 19.5 million acres, is one of the last untouched ecosystems in the world. It is home to 45 species of land and marine mammals, including polar bears, wolf, moose, mountain sheep and bowhead whales.

The Refuge is also the primary habitat of the Porcupine Caribou Herd, one of the largest herds of mammals in North America. Each spring the herd migrates from its winter range in the boreal forests to the spring calving and nursery grounds on the coastal plain of northeastern Alaska and Yukon.

Young Gwich’in Protester Lexine Demientieff

Young Gwich’in Protester Lexine Demientieff

About 9,000 Gwich’in people make their homes on or near the migratory route of the Porcupine Caribou Herd, and they have depended on caribou for their subsistence way of life for thousands of years. Today, as in the days of their ancestors, the caribou is still vital for food, clothing and tools, and they are a source of respect and spiritual guidance for the Gwich’in.

The mission of the GSC is to ensure the long-term health and viability of the Porcupine Caribou Herd that sustains the Gwich’in way of life. The GSC, under mandate from the elders and chiefs, must continue to educate the world about the importance of the herd, and fight to protect the Refuge, which it refers to as “the Sacred Place Where Life Begins.”

Big oil companies and some members of the U.S. Congress want to drill along the coastal plain of the Refuge, which would put the future of the Porcupine Caribou Herd and the traditional Gwich’in way of life at risk. The roads, pipelines, traffic, drill rigs and other disruptions that come with oil drilling could drive the caribou away from their calving grounds.

Gwich’in Steering Committee delegates in Washington D.C. Left to right are Steve Frank, Bernadette Demientieff, Kathy Tritt, Lillian Horace and Tiliisia Sisto.

Gwich’in Steering Committee delegates in Washington D.C. Left to right are Steve Frank, Bernadette Demientieff, Kathy Tritt, Lillian Horace and Tiliisia Sisto.

In 2018, First Nations Development Institute awarded the GSC $20,000 to launch a new campaign to increase awareness of this impending threat. With this funding, the GSC has launched a large-scale campaign that consists of television and radio public service announcements, social media outreach and online petitions, as well as national and worldwide speaking engagements to educate and inform the public about the negative and widespread consequences of drilling for oil and gas along the coastal plain of the Refuge.

As part of this campaign, the Gwich’in Steering Committee has planned three events in early December to further its mission of protecting and defending the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge. These events are:

  • 58th Anniversary Celebration of the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge. Thursday, December 6 at 6 p.m. in the Pioneer Park Exhibit Hall, Fairbanks, Alaska. The GSC and other Arctic Refuge advocates will host a “Keep It Wilderness” celebration. The evening will include traditional food, music, art and several guest speakers.
  • Pray for Our Homelands. Saturday, December 8. The GSC has asked all 15 G’wichin communities and local churches to participate in a prayer vigil in honor of the calving grounds of the Porcupine Caribou Herd.
  • Protest in Washington, D.C. Monday, December 10. The GSC asks other tribal nations to stand in solidarity in Washington, D.C., as it protests drilling for oil and gas in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge.

All events are free and open to the public. For more information about these events, please visit the GSC’s Facebook page at https://www.facebook.com/ourarcticrefuge/

By Sarah Hernandez, First Nations Communications Officer

One thought on “Gwich’in Seek to Protect Arctic Wildlife Refuge

  1. There is a constant battle with Donald Trump & his ilk to protect Wilderness, National Parks, Reserves and other Natural Places from his exploitative friends. Theses places are irreplaceable & should be preserved for our children & their children and beyond. They are a place of solace and peace, not a place for oil exploration, mining or other disruptive practices. What does his henchmen think the word “Refuge” means? These places of pristine beauty should be protected forever against men like Donald Trump & his administration & others in the future!

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *