Gwich’in Nation Calls for Urgent Arctic Refuge Protection and Climate Action
By Bernadette Demientieff and Sarah James
The Gwich’in Nation renewed their urgent call to Congress and the President to permanently protect the Coastal Plain of the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge as Wilderness for the caribou and the Gwich’in way of life.
Under the midnight sun, the opening ceremony of the Gwich’in Gathering began with the lighting of a sacred fire to mark that we are still here as Gwich’in people — still living off the land, still upholding our spiritual relationship to the caribou, and practicing our way of life.
The Gwich’in Nation of Alaska and Canada kept sacred fire going for three days while addressing urgent threats of both oil development on the Coastal Plain of the Arctic Refuge and impacts of record climate change. Chiefs, elders, and community members remain united for permanent protection of the birthplace and nursing grounds of the Porcupine Caribou and the Gwich’in culture.
The human rights of the Gwich’in are tied to permanent protection of the Coastal Plain of the Arctic Refuge. We continue to celebrate and thank President Obama for sending the first-ever proposed Arctic Refuge Wilderness recommendation to Congress and for strong actions to mitigate climate change.
Since 1988, the people of the Gwich’in Nation in northeast Alaska and northwest Canada have spoken with a unified voice to protect the Sacred Place Where Life Begins −Izhik Gwat’san Gwandaii Goodlit −the birthplace and nursery grounds of the Porcupine Caribou Herd, the coastal plain of the Arctic Refuge from oil exploration and development. For the first time in a century, the Gwich’in people gathered in 1988 to answer the crisis of possible oil development in Arctic Refuge. The Chiefs, the Elders, and the people met in Arctic Village with one goal, to unite to protect the caribou and our culture. It was powerful rebirth of the Gwich’in Nation. Since then, the Gwich’in have gathered every other year to reaffirm this commitment to permanently protect the Coastal Plain of the Arctic Refuge as Wilderness.
In 2016, 28 years later, the fire in our spirit continues to remain Gwich’in people, to pass on our language, our ways of living and being with the land and animals, to seek solutions to the energy problems we are facing in our villages. Arctic Village utilizes the power of the sun through solar panels and strives to become more energy efficient. We recognize that climate change is an issue that affects all of humanity and the need for urgent action at all levels to mitigate greenhouse gas emissions. We urge each community practice the 4 R’s (recycle, reuse, reduce, refuse), especially for fossil fuels.
Many of our allies and supporters joined us to celebrate “We are the Arctic” as we recognize how we are all connected by the Arctic Refuge. We shared our Gwich’in culture, traditional foods, music, dance, and games, and kept the sacred fire burning.
We will educate the world in a good way as generations of Gwich’in continue to take up the fight to protect our culture and Way of Life.