Gwich’in leadership calls for action on climate

Gwich’in Athabascan leaders in Alaska’s Interior who contend that governments are allowing oil and gas companies to put their profits before human rights and basic needs on indigenous peoples are tell governments to change their ways.

“Our traditional hunters and scientists tell us that the climate emergency in the Arctic threatens our food, our water and our future,” said Bernadette Demientieff, executive director of the Gwich’in Steering Committee. “Indigenous Peoples around the world face similar threats. We need to stand together and demand that our governments stop allowing oil and gas companies to put their profits before our human rights and basic needs.”

The Gwich’in Steering Committee statement was issued in Fort Yukon on June 18, in the wake of a three-day Indigenous Climate Summit there a week earlier to discuss the climate crisis and its impact on their food security.

Their statement came on the same day as breaking news that Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau announced approval of a major expansion of the Trans Mountain Pipeline, which will result in a surge of new oil tanker traffic through the waters of the Pacific Northwest.

Summit speakers included traditional and western scientists, hunters, tribal chiefs, community members and their allies.

Joel Clement, a senior fellow with the Arctic Initiative at Harvard University’s Belfer Center for Science and International Affairs, spoke of the importance of listening to indigenous communities and the need for more unity in all communities.

Stanley Edwin, a Draanjik Gwichyaa Gwich’in doctoral candidate at the University of Alaska Fairbanks, who holds a bachelor’s degree in physics and masters’ in atmospheric science, discussed the importance of combining both traditional science and western science to form a unity that makes communities stronger. Indigenous and human rights activist Louise Benally of Dine Bike’ya also addressed the summit to speak about indigenous unity across the continent.

Traditional Chief Steve Ginnis addressed ways in which climate change and extractive industries are currently interfering with traditional ways of life that have sustained their people for thousands of years. Other speakers included traditional hunters Darrell Vent, of Huslia, Chuck Peter, of Fort Yukon, and Stanley Riley of Barrow, who spokes about climate change threats to food security.