D.C.) -- Right now in Washington,
D.C., Congress is making decisions that
will affect my future and that of my people — the Gwich’in Nation of
critical part of our ancestral homelands, the coastal plain of the
National Wildlife Refuge — one of the world’s last untouched places —
lost to the thirst for oil.
in Congress want to open
the area to drilling and use the revenue to offset tax cuts
wealthy. Meanwhile, President Trump is quietly permitting companies to
first steps towards drilling here.
Arctic Refuge, home to wildlife and vast lands essential to my people’s
survival, has been reduced to a line item.
disturbed that the push to drill has been allowed to overshadow our
rights. The Gwich’in people have relied on the lands of the refuge for
thousands of years. These lands provide everything we need to live and
our food, our clothing, our tools, everything.
sacred place where life begins
people have always subsisted on the Porcupine
Herd, whose calving grounds are in the coastal plain. This is
why we call
the coastal plain “the sacred place where life begins.”
place is vital for the survival of my people. We are caribou people.
say that what befalls the caribou befalls the Gwich’in. If they go, we
of us will die with them, and the other half can’t survive without them.
identities as indigenous people are at stake, and decision makers at
highest levels must take that into account. My people, history,
our future must factor into the decision making in Washington.
drilling billed as safe
also disturbed to hear politicians talking about “directional
drilling” to justify opening this area as part of
the budget. That is,
they’re planning on placing drills just outside the boundaries of the
and drilling sideways to reach oil under this special place.
drilling is billed as safe and clean technology. It’s not. There is no
drilling would allow massive oil infrastructure to squeeze the borders
refuge, while drills could be sunk into the coastal plain, the heart of
refuge, in the name of exploration. That would disturb the caribou
grounds and hinder the migration patterns of already declining herds.
what hurts the caribou ultimately hurts my people.
Gwich’in Nation has been fighting this fight since it first came up 40
ago. That’s why every two years, the Gwich’in come together to reaffirm
commitment to protect the coastal plain of the refuge from drilling.
year, people came from the 15 villages that make up the Gwich’in
danced. We sang. We were well provided for, and I felt that our
sitting there with us. Now tribes across Alaska are coming together
have a moral responsibility to protect this land for our children and
grandchildren. This isn’t a game. Real lives are at stake — our lives —
with special places that are too sacred to drill.
must take drilling in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge off the
up to all of us to protect this sacred place for generations to come.
Demientieff is Executive Director for the Gwich’in Steering
Committee. She represents the Gwich’in nation from both sides
border in the U.S. and Canada. This report first appeared at OtherWords.org and is
reprinted here with