For millennia Alaska Native peoples have depended upon our traditional lands and waters to sustain us. We stand together if one of our villages’ traditional food access is at risk of harm. The Gwich’in Nation depend on the Porcupine Caribou Herd, the calving grounds of which are within the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge (the Refuge), at a place called, Lizhik Gwats’an GwandaiiGoodlit (the scared place where life begins).
The way of life of the Gwich’in is intertwined with the life of the caribou. If this area is opened to drilling and the caribou are driven away, the Gwich’in existence as a people will be in jeopardy. The renewed threat of opening the Refuge for development prompted the Tanana Chiefs Conference Full Board of Directors to recently confirm our commitment to protecting the birthing grounds of the Porcupine Caribou Herd. In October, at the special convention, TCC took official action to reaffirm our 2015 resolution to protect the Refuge.
Given this direction from the full board, and at the request of the Yukon Flats subregion, I traveled to Washington, D.C., and met with the offices of Senators Manchin (WV), McCain (AZ), Schumer (NY), Tester (MT) and Franken (MN), Gardner (CO), Collins (ME), Flake (AZ) regarding the Arctic Refuge. Our main message was that only by Regular Order can the Senate ensure that all views are heard in hearings and floor debate.
The Senate should seek bipartisan solutions regarding the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge, meaningfully consult Alaska Native people, and take into account the Refuge’s unique biological diversity and the cultural importance of its wildlife to Alaska Natives who rely upon it for wellness. The Alaska Native people deserve better than a legislative process done on the “quick and cheap” when our culture and food security are at stake.
The conference committee assembled to take up the differences between the House and Senate versions of the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act that includes the ANWR opening provision have reached an agreement and the final version will allow for development despite our efforts. However, the final vote has not taken place and special thanks to all the tribes of the Interior for your dedication to the protection of the calving grounds of the Porcupine Caribou herd is in order.
Written by Natasha Singh, General Counsel