The Gwich'in people have been fighting this battle for decades, and now they need broader public support. Learn how you can help.
For the past thirty years, the Gwich’in people of Alaska, Yukon, and the Northwest Territories have been fighting to protect the coastal plain of the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge from oil drilling and industrial development. This 1.2-million-acre mountainous landscape is the ancestral home of the Gwich’in people, and also the important calving ground of the porcupine caribou, a majestic animal to which the Gwich’in believe their fate is intimately tied.
Oil companies are drilling nearby in the Arctic and desperately want access to the coastal plain region. Senators and lobbyists for the oil industry have been arguing about this for decades, insisting on their right to drill on behalf of America’s energy plan. The Gwich’in disagree, saying that it’s a human rights issue, a matter of food security, and the caribou’s right to be undisturbed while birthing offspring. The Gwich’in rely on the caribou for sustenance, and the caribou rely on them for protection, and this careful balance has existed for 20,000 years.
Now the Gwich’in have joined forces with the Alaska Wilderness League, outdoor apparel retailer Patagonia, and social media platform Care2 to spread the word that this coastal plain needs to be permanently protected, as soon as possible. Care2 is circulating a petition, urging the federal government to grant wilderness status to the region. Together, the groups have created a 15-minute film called “The Refuge,” which follows the two main leaders of the resistance, Bernadette Demientieff and Princess Daazhraii Johnson.
Johnson states in the film:
“What we’re up against is a mentality that puts money above everything else. The symbolism of getting into a place like the coastal plain of the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge is that you are sending a very clear message that there really aren't permanently protected areas because, at the end of the day, we need to make money and we need that oil. And that is not true. That is something that has been sold to us, and that we keep believing.”