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Gwich’in Steering Committee:
Protecting The Sacred Place Where Life Begins

Contributed by Bernadette Demientieff, Executive Director

Bernadette with Gwich’in Steering Committee Representatives and Friends

Bernadette with Gwich’in Steering Committee Representatives and Friends

The Gwich’in people draw strength from our elders, who began the work of protecting the Coastal Plain of the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge decades ago. We need their strength and lessons today, more than ever. Alaska’s congressional delegation and their friends who have long wanted to open the Coastal Plain of the Arctic Refuge to industrial development, are making moves now.

Gwich’in people have lived in this region, which stretches from northeast Alaska to northern Canada, for 20,000 years, long before the current political boundaries were ever relevant. We are the northernmost Native Nation, and the Coastal Plain is sacred to us; we call it Iizhik Gwats’an Gwandaii Goodlit or The Sacred Place Where Life Begins. This 1.5-million-acre area is the biological heart of the Arctic Refuge, but it is not yet designated as “wilderness”, which would finally protect it, the Porcupine Caribou Herd and our Gwich’in way of life permanently.

Every spring, the Porcupine Caribou Herd migrates to the Coastal Plain to give birth. Our people have always relied on the caribou for our food, clothing, tools—our cultural traditions. We must protect this special place, so that all the animals that live in and migrate to this area—the caribou, polar bears, musk oxen, millions upon millions of birds—will always be around for us and for future generations.

Despite having the support of our many friends across the nation (most Americans, in fact!), Alaska’s congress members have once again introduced bills (H.R. 49/S. 49) to open the entire Coastal Plain to oil and gas drilling. Given the current climate of our federal government, we have grave concerns. The scale of development would devastate the wildlife and our people. They claim it’s what Alaskans want, but the Gwich’in Nation, ACF and our many allies across the state are here to tell you differently.

One of our very respected elders Jonathon Solomon once stated, “What befalls the caribou, befalls the Gwich’in.” Our identity is not up for negotiation. Our human rights should be respected.

Please join us in advocating to protect our homelands, caribou and way of life. Visit and raise your voice to protect the Refuge!

ACF has been proud to support the Gwich’in Steering Committee for more than 30 years. We stand by them in their decades-long struggle to permanently protect the Coastal Plain of the Arctic Refuge and their right to continue their way of life.

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