U.S. Senate Tax Bill Will Have Devastating Impacts on the Alaska Native Gwich’in Peoples’

Bemidji, MN December 4, 2017 – Before dawn on Saturday morning, December 2nd, the U.S. Senate passed a monumental tax overhaul with no Democratic support that overwhelmingly benefits corporations and the top 1%. The bill, written by a small panel of Republicans, behind closed doors was rushed to a vote, bypassing regular order that would have included hearings and committee meetings with both parties participating.  In fact, the bill has ignited an outcry from Democrats, calling this process of the bill, “Washington at it’s worst”.

While the focus of criticism is centered on how the bill will not benefit a majority of taxpayers in the long term, there are immediate and potentially dire impacts within this bill for Indigenous Peoples that is being overlooked in the media. Two provisions inserted by Sen. Lisa Murkowski (R-Alaska) direct Sec. Zinke to approve at least two lease sales for drilling. Each would consist of no fewer than 400,000 acres and 2,000 acres (of the 800,000 total acres) set aside for wells and support facilities within ANWR’s 1.5 million-acre coastal plain.

Alaskan Natives, and particularly the Gwich’in Peoples, have thrived here for countless generations and continue to lead subsistence lifestyles that are heavily dependent on the Arctic for resources to survive. And this is not the first time the Gwich’in have fought against the opening of the ANWR to oil drilling. In 2005, the Trustees for Alaska, a public interest law firm, released a report that oil drilling in the ANWR would jeopardize the culture of the Gwich’in. It emphasized that the area now targeted by Senate Republicans is critical to the Porcupine Caribou Herd, essential to the Gwich’in way of life, and that the U.S. has an obligation to protect the coastal plains of ANWR.

The Indigenous Environmental Network works with the Gwich’in Peoples to protect their ancestral lands through the campaign to Keep Fossil Fuels in The Ground. This week, IEN and members of the Gwich’in will travel to Washington D.C. to protest the decision to open the ANWR to oil development and to advocate for the protection of this pristine ecosystem and rights of the Gwich’in.

Statement from Tom B.K. Goldtooth, Executive Director, Indigenous Environmental Network: “This sneaky back door approach by the GOP to include oil drilling in the Senate tax bill further exemplifies the disregard the Trump administration and Republican allies have for Native American rights. I have been to the homeland of the Gwich’in people. Any oil and gas development in this pristine federally protected land that is sacred to the Gwich’in people who call it “the sacred place where life begins” would be a grave violation of their human rights. ANWR is not only the home of the Porcupine Caribou Herd that the Gwich’in people depend on for survival, but is also an integral part of their spiritual, cultural, social and economic identity. Oil and gas production with its huge corporate industrial complex and infrastructure to come into the ANWR would be extreme with the construction of roads, long-distance pipelines and drill pads that, despite environmental regulations, would leave a legacy of contaminated water, land, air and a devastated ecosystem that would affect sensitive habitat such as the Porcupine Caribou Herd and its calving grounds. Leasing of these public lands to corporations that have no regard for the Gwich’in and other Alaska Native peoples is a form of privatization of nature; of life. Its up to the House to reject the opening of ANWR and prevent ecocide and genocide against Mother Earth and the Gwich’in indigenous peoples.”

Statement from Dallas Goldtooth, Keep It In The Ground Campaigner, Indigenous Environmental Network: “This whole tax bill debate is a scam and an affront to the practice of government protecting its citizens and lands. We cannot allow Big Oil, lobbyists and the elected leaders in their pockets to further diminish the quality of lives of the Gwich’in and Inupiat peoples of northern Alaska. We cannot allow the fossil fuel regime to further threaten the sacred integrity of the Porcupine Caribou Herd. We cannot afford to drill for more oil while Indigenous traditional knowledge and western science states that we need to keep fossil fuels in the ground to mitigate further climate chaos.”