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Old Crow, Yukon, Canada – Delegates of the Gwich’in Nation from Alaska and Canada met in Old Crow on July 19, the first full day of the 2022 Gwich’in Gathering, to unanimously reaffirm a resolution calling for protections for the birthplace and nursery grounds of the Porcupine caribou herd. The resolution calls for the United States Congress to recognize and honor the human rights of the Gwich’in by permanently protecting the coastal plain of the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge.

“At the first Gwich’in Gathering in 1988 in Arctic Village, Alaska, our leaders told us to educate and advocate for the caribou and our way of life,” said Chief Dana Tizya-Tramm of the Vuntut Gwitchin First Nation in Old Crow. “This week we again united as caribou people by calling for enduring protections and committing to telling our stories and showing the world what it means to respect what is beautiful and sacred.”

Before the vote, Gwich’in leaders from northeast Alaska and northwest Canada spoke about the importance of the Porcupine caribou as the foundation of the Gwich’in culture and way of life. The Gwich’in first unified around the resolution in 1988, and have steadfastly protected the birthing grounds of the Porcupine caribou for millennia.

“Our unity and resilience is our heart and strength,” said Chief Karma Ulvi of Eagle, Alaska. “This is my first time in Old Crow and my first time meeting some of my relatives here. Our relationships and connections across villages, borders, and generations are how we as a Nation have protected caribou and future generations of Gwich’in, and it’s how we will do it again even during these challenging times.”

The Gwich’in Gathering in Old Crow this week is the first since the COVID-19 pandemic, and the second since the U.S. Congress passed a tax bill that allows for oil and gas activities in the Arctic Refuge. The tax bill resulted in a lease sale that fell flat on its face in 2021, drawing no major oil and gas company bids and failing to meet even a fraction of 1 percent of the tax bill’s promised revenue.

The Gwich’in have fought for decades and traveled long distances to speak directly with legislators and the electorate in the U.S. They delivered messages to oil and gas companies, urging them to not drill on sacred lands. They reached out to and met with the heads of major banks and insurance companies to ask those corporations not to fund or insure oil and gas projects that would desecrate sacred lands in the Arctic Refuge.

Gwich’in leaders, elders and youth have played a monumental role in influencing the outcome of the failed lease sale and in showing the rest of the world that drilling on sacred lands is contrary to their Indigenous and human rights. All major banks in the U.S. and Canada, along with 18 other international banks, have now said they would not finance drilling in the Arctic Refuge; and 14 international insurers and the U.S. insurer AIG have said they would not insure any drilling in the Arctic Refuge. 

“The Gwich’in have faced the ongoing threat to the calving grounds of the Porcupine caribou herd by giving voice to our way of life, by showing up at meetings thousands and thousands of miles away, and by educating others, no matter how hard the burdens and difficult the conversations,” said Grand Chief Ken Kyikavichik of the Gwich’in Tribal Council. “Early this week we resolved again to do that work as a Nation to protect the caribou and our way of life for future generations.” 

Three oil companies have backed out of their interests in the Arctic Refuge completely, despite owning leases, including:

  • Regenerate Alaska, the only oil company to bid on the Jan. 7, 2021 lease sale, and
  • Chevron and Hilcorp, the two oil companies that held decades-old leases on the corporation lands within the coastal plain and know the results of a secret test well drilled in 1987.

“Over thirty years ago our elders directed us to defend these sacred lands and our way of life,” said Bernadette Demientieff, executive director of the Gwich’in Steering Committee. “We have had many challenges but giving up is never an option. We live in accordance with our values and because of that we continue to stand strong in unity. Reaffirming the resolution brings us together in strength, love and in prayer so that we can continue to stop any destruction to the Iizhik Gwats’an Gwandaii Goodlit–the sacred place where life begins. We will not back down from protecting the Arctic Refuge, the Porcupine caribou herd and the Gwich’in way of life.”