When news broke out the United States government had decided to open up the Arctic Refuge in Alaska to lease sales, I reached out to the GNWT to find out if they have a position on the potential effects on the change of status to some protected areas where the Porcupine Caribou herd much of the Beaufort Delta region depends on for sustenance births its young.
In following the events over the last month, I’ve spoken with outgoing Gwich’in Tribal Council (GTC) Grand Chief Bobbie Jo Greenland-Morgan twice about the subject. A rally held in support of the efforts of the Gwich’in Steering Committee (GSC) in the United States was held in Whitehorse, our neighbour’s capital and was attended by a cabinet member of that territory. The GSC filed a lawsuit which appears to have bought enough time to stall the process until the next election, the results of which are still anyone’s guess.
But aside from a few initial responses I’ve yet to hear much back from the GNWT on the fate of the Porcupine Caribou. In fairness, with the summer the Legislative Assembly has had, I can understand a few inquiries falling off the radar. But this concerns a significant number of NWT citizens. While the Yukon government has a special section on their website devoted to their position on the refuge, the GNWT’s takes a bit more work to find. Presumably the current government’s position has not changed since the previous one voiced opposition to opening the preserve to oil and gas exploration in June of 2018. But it would be a nice assurance amid the many other issues I understand the government is facing to hear a comment in regard to the problem.
It’s certainly not as if the GNWT doesn’t pay attention to the Porcupine Caribou. The government website is full of excellent and informative material on the Porcupine Herd largely thanks to the hard work of researchers, hunters, elders and other support workers and management who make these studies happen. The GNWT is also a member of the Porcupine Caribou Management Board and went as far as writing the U.S. Department of the Interior in opposition to a previous step in the process in June 2018. So there is also a precedent for taking vocal action, even if only in support.
But we are speaking of an issue that crosses several borders, many within Canada, where one stakeholder has arbitrarily made a decision about the subject, in this case U.S. President Donald Trump and the Bureau of Land Management, seemingly without much regard to the other stakeholders. It seems like a good idea to remind them of the limits — and consequences — of their power. The GNWT has nothing to gain from the friendship of the current White House administration. They should speak up for their citizens, even if they have nothing new to say. What has been said certainly bears repeating.
Again, I understand it’s been an insane summer for everyone in the Legislative Assembly and the GNWT has done more than pull their weight in the past. But with new management coming in at the Gwich’in Tribal Council it would be a good way to remind them the GNWT has their backs.