No major Canadian bank is planning to finance any efforts to drill for oil or gas in the Alaskan Arctic Wildlife Refuge after Scotiabank and CIBC updated their policies to become more climate-friendly.

A bull caribou walks off into the mist at the Arctic Refuge in Alaska. Conservationists are warning the porcupine caribou herd could face serious challenges if Donald Trump’s plan to drill for oil in the sacred calving grounds goes ahead.
Photo credit Malkolm Boothroyd/

A joint press conference from Vuntut Gwichin Government and the Gwich’in Tribal Council announced the support Dec. 14.

“We are pleased to see CIBC and Scotiabank join the other Canadian banks to stand in solidarity with the Gwich’in to protect the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge,” said Gwich’in Grand Chief Ken Smith in a statement. “Through their actions, the Canadian banks are sending a clear message that they will not stand for the destruction of a sacred place and they will not tolerate the proposed violation of Gwich’in rights.

“We the Gwich’in, are proud to be able to call the Canadian banks our allies in our fight to protect the Refuge, the Porcupine Caribou and the very essence of who we are and our culture.”

The support comes on the heels of announcement of the outgoing Trump administration — which has yet to officially concede defeat in the Nov. 3 U.S. Election in spite of losing by 74 electoral college votes and over seven million votes — that it would open Iizhik Gwats’an Gwandaii Goodlit, which is Gwich’in for the Sacred Place Where Life Begins to lease sales on Jan. 6.

In response, the Gwich’in Steering Committee and 12 of its allies, which had filed a lawsuit Aug. 24, have filed for a preliminary injunction, asking for a court decision overruling the White House before Jan. 6. Among the plaintiffs are the Canadian Parks & Wilderness Society-Yukon Chapter.

“The Porcupine caribou herd is a lifeblood to Gwich’in communities in the Yukon and Northwest Territories, and a keystone of Canada’s Arctic ecosystems,” said Yukon chapter of the Canadian Parks and Wilderness Society campaigns coordinator Malkolm Boothroyd. “We must defend the Porcupine caribou from the U.S. Government’s last-ditch attempt to auction the Arctic Refuge away to oil companies.”

Inuvik Drum previously reported that the U.S. Bureau of Land Management issued calls for nominations on Nov. 17, which opened a 30-day window for oil companies to pick out the land parcels it would like to bid on. That process is scheduled to wrap up Dec. 17, creating another 30-day window before a lease sale could be completed. That would have been Jan. 18, two days before President-elect Joe Biden assumes office.

Biden has repeatedly stated he is completely against opening the refuge to drilling and has promised to permanently protect the refuge from development.

With the announcements by Scotia Bank and CIBC, all five major Canadian banks are joining six major U.S. banks in refusing to finance drilling in the refuge. It is currently not known which, if any, oil companies are interested in drilling in the refuge.

A target for development by Republican administrations since the 1980s, the Alaskan Arctic Wildlife Refuge is home to the calving grounds of the Porcupine Caribou, one of the main food sources for the Gwich’in people. It is also home to hundreds of endangered bird species and vital habitat for polar bears.

Eric Bowling

Covering all things related to the Beaufort Delta, Eric Bowling is your editor for the Inuvik Drum. He came north after cutting his teeth in Alberta. Eric enjoys long walks, loud music and strong coffee.

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