Delegates at the 2018 Gwich’in Gathering at Tsiigehtchic, Northwest Territories, are calling for permanent protection of the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge to habitat for the Porcupine caribou herd.
In advance of the vote on June 26, the second day of the gathering, delegates from northeast Alaska and northwest Canada spoke of the importance of the Porcupine herd to their families and communities for food and as the foundation of their culture and way of life.
This is the first gathering since passage of the Republican tax overhaul and subsequent opening of the 1002 area of ANWR for oil exploration and development. The action in December of 2017 was applauded by Alaska’s congressional delegation and Gov. Bill Walker as an opportunity to refill the Trans-Alaska Pipeline System, with thousands of jobs and potentially billions of dollars in royalties for Alaska alone.
The Gwich’in Nation first unified around the resolution in 1988, and this gathering marks the 30th anniversary of that commitment, said Bernadette Dementieff, of Fairbanks, executive director of the Gwich’in Steering Committee. “Our elders and leaders spoke very strongly and encouraged us to keep fighting for our way of life, and they cannot drill in the refuge,” she said. Dementieff spoke to the United Nations in New York City about the issue this past spring and said she is hopeful that the UN will recommend permanent protection of ANWR, the birthplace and nursery grounds for the Porcupine caribou herd.
“Protecting the Arctic Refuge is what we have to do for al Gwich’in people,” said Chief James John of Arctic Village. “This is about protecting the caribou and protecting our way of life. This is about saving our people.”
The Gathering brings together Gwich’in people from Alaska and Canada to share stories, news, dances, food and culture, and to make decisions as the Gwich’in Nation.
“As indigenous people of this land, we owe it to our ancestors and future generations to come to protect our way of life so that we are able to live as we always have,” said Tonya Garnett, executive director of the Native village of Venetie tribal government.