News that the Interior Department plans to begin efforts toward a lease sale in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge have the Gwich’in people of Alaska and Canada up in arms.
“The Gwich’In people are opposed to all oil and gas activities in the coastal plain of the Arctic Refuge and our position is not negotiable,” said Bernadette Demientieff, executive director of the Gwich’in Steering Committee, in Fairbanks, in a statement issued March 8.
“For the Gwich’in, protecting the coastal plain is protecting our identity, our human rights, and our culture. The announcement that the Trump administration is moving forward to allow oil and gas on the coastal plain ignores the Gwich’in human rights in favor of the oil and gas industry.”
Oral tradition indicates that the Gwich’in, whose Athabaskan speaking communities are scattered from northeast Alaska to the northern Yukon and Northwest Territories, have occupied this vast area for some 20,000 years.
Alaska’s Gwich’in communities are Arctic Village, Beaver, Birch Creek, Canyon Village, Chalkytsik, Circle, Eagle Village, Fort Yukon and Venetie. Residents rely heavily on the Porcupine caribou herd to support their way of life. To them the coastal plain of ANWR is “lizhik Gwats’an Gwandalii Goodlit” or “the place where life begins” because of its importance to the caribou herd.
The Gwich’in Steering Committee criticized Alaska’s congressional delegation and the Interior Department for its decision and vowed to keep up their fight to keep oil and gas exploration out of ANWR.