Gwich’in from Alaska, Yukon and the Northwest Territories met last week at the 15th biennial Gwich’in Gathering in Tsiigehtchic to reaffirm their commitment to protect the caribou calving grounds in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge (ANWR).
Dana Tizya-Tramm, councillor for the Vuntut Gwitchin First Nation in Old Crow, said one of the main topics of discussion at the gathering was the protection of the caribou calving grounds in ANWR.
“We do recognize the threat coming from the US government, which only makes us stronger as a people,” he said. “What’s very interesting about this issue is that for northeast Alaska and from the Yukon to NWT, we’ve raised a red flag over this presidency from the very beginning, from the heart of the Indigenous people, from Alaskans to Canadian people in general, we saw this coming a very long time ago.”
The gathering, which was the first since Donald Trump was elected President of the United States, took place from June 25 to 29.
The United States passed a tax bill late last year that would open part of ANWR to oil and gas drilling, which Gwich’in oppose.
Lorraine Netro, board member for Gwich’in Steering Committee, said Gwich’in are united in their stance against this bill opening up oil and gas development in ANWR.
“We’re going to make sure that our voice is very clear in that there is no oil and gas development in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge,” said Netro. “Even though the government in the United States … would like to fasttrack this process so that they can sell the oil and gas leases in ANWR, we are there every step of the way, we are watching from the Gwich’in nation.”
Netro said this gathering is taking place at a critical time.
“We’ve always been involved for the last 30 years in protecting the calving grounds … right now, we’re at a critical, important place. We’re not alarmists, we’re realists. This is real for us today,” she said. “We’re going to continue to travel and take part in every stage of this process that we can.”
Netro said Gwich’in are working with various organizations and all levels of government to protect ANWR.
“Our prime minister and governments at all levels are well aware of the ANWR, we have done our homework in Canada and … every level of government in Canada, they stand in support of the Gwich’in nation,” said Netro. “We are never going to negotiate our way of life or sacrifice our way of life to a gas company in our sacred lands.”
Chief James John from Arctic Village, Alaska, stressed the importance of caribou to Gwich’in people.
“Our people, we fight for the caribou, we live for the caribou, we eat the caribou,” said John. “As you can see right now, we’re fighting for the caribou and we will never give up on this. We will continue to fight this.”
The 2020 Gwich’in Gathering is set to take place in Old Crow, Yukon.