Quantcast

How Drilling in ANWR Would Threaten the Gwich’in People's Way of Life

[Editor's note: This article is the first in a six-part series about the remote Alaskan town, Arctic Village near the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge, where six students from Sierra Nevada College visited last fall. Read part II.]

Rachael Blum is a final semester senior at Sierra Nevada College, majoring in Sustainability with a minor in Outdoor Leadership.

Last fall I was fortunate enough to adventure to Alaska with six students from Sierra Nevada College to engage in an incredibly unique cultural immersion and sustainability course in one of the most remote place in the world, Arctic Village. I come from a small towns and understand small town mentality, but this was different. The local natives were friendly and accommodating, eager to sweep the six wide-eyed students away on four-wheelers the second the small bush plane landed.

Students from Sierra Nevada College visit the remote town of Arctic Village. Photo credit: Sierra Nevada College

We found ourselves in Arctic Village after receiving an invitation from respected Gwich’in Tribal elder Sarah James to take a course that would share the traditional ways of the Gwich’in Tribe, as well as speak to the importance of protecting the nearby Arctic National Wildlife Refuge (ANWR), a place that has been called “the last great wilderness” by numerous scholars and environmental advocates. During our time in Arctic Village, we had the opportunity to participate in many local activities including eating traditional meals (caribou, fry bread, ground squirrel), hunting, fishing, camping and hiking. We had many discussions with tribal members about the Gwich’in culture as well as the treat to drill for oil in ANWR's coastal plain, known as 1002 area.

The desire to drill for oil on the pristine coastal borders of ANWR will put the future of the Porcupine Caribou herd at risk. The proposed 1002 Coastal Shore drilling site is where the Caribou go to calve. Referred to as “The Sacred Place Where Life Begins” by the Gwich’on Steering Committee can be transferred and interpreted in many ways. Not only is it where the Caribou calve begin their epic migration throughout Alaska, but it is where the Gwich’in people’s culture begins and continues to flourish.

Located approximately 300 miles south of the ANWR coastline lays humble Arctic Village, home to one of the Gwich’in tribes. Gwich’in, for those unfamiliar, directly translates to “The Caribou People.” After the calving process, the caribou make their way south through and near Arctic Village where the native’s culture lives on and is supported by the caribou meat. Hunting is a major way of life for the Gwich’in people. It supplies food, clothing, community and culture.

Before colonization, these people were a nomadic bunch—moving with the caribou. After this was no longer possible due to colonization, they settled in an area that is currently threatened by global warming, seen in permafrost and river changes, and the possibility of drilling up north. The caribou are one of the few sacred things left in the culture, without them, Gwich’in culture and Arctic Village will cease to exist.

It is not unusual to see multiple firearms strapped on the men of the village, even the four-wheelers are equipped with gun racks. The hunters of Arctic Village are always ready for a caribou, moose or bear to wander into their area. Hunting is a way of life in the village. It feeds their small population and unifies the people. One man said, “We never refuse meat to someone in need. It always comes back to you.” They take care of each other with meat, they celebrate the meat, they exist off the meat.

We were asked to go north to learn about the proposed 1002 drilling site and its threat to Gwich’in culture so that it may be passed on to the lower 48. To learn more visit the Gwich’in Steering Committee website.

YOU MIGHT ALSO LIKE

Obama Seeks Wilderness Designation for Arctic National Wildlife Refuge

10 Great American Hikes That Should Be on Your Bucket List

‘How to Change the World’ Traces the Birth of Greenpeace

EcoWatch Daily Newsletter

Matt Cardy / Stringer / Getty Images

The Guardian is changing the way it writes about environmental issues.

Read More Show Less
Blueberry yogurt bark. SEE D JAN / iStock / Getty Images Plus

By Lizzie Streit, MS, RDN, LD

Having nutritious snacks to eat during the workday can help you stay energized and productive.

Read More Show Less
Sponsored
A 2017 flood in Elk Grove, California. Florence Low / California Department of Water Resources

By Tara Lohan

It's been the wettest 12 months on record in the continental United States. Parts of the High Plains and Midwest are still reeling from deadly, destructive and expensive spring floods — some of which have lasted for three months.

Mounting bills from natural disasters like these have prompted renewed calls to reform the National Flood Insurance Program, which is managed by Federal Emergency Management Agency and is now $20 billion in debt.

Read More Show Less
Jennifer A. Smith / Moment / Getty Images

By Brenda Ekwurzel

When temperatures hit the 80s Fahrenheit in May above latitude 40, sun-seekers hit the parks, lakes, and beaches, and thoughts turn to summer. By contrast, when temperatures lurk in the drizzly 40s and 50s well into flower season, northerners get impatient for summer. But when those 80-degree temperatures visit latitude 64 in Russia, as they just did, and when sleet disrupts Mother's Day weekend in May in Massachusetts, as it just did, thoughts turn to: what is going on here?

Read More Show Less
Shrimp fishing along the coast of Nayarit, Mexico. Tomas Castelazo / Wikimedia, CC BY-SA

By Paula Ezcurra and Octavio Aburto

Thousands of hydroelectric dams are under construction around the world, mainly in developing countries. These enormous structures are one of the world's largest sources of renewable energy, but they also cause environmental problems.

Read More Show Less
Sponsored
Activists in North Dakota confront pipeline construction activities. A Texas bill would impose steep penalties for such protests. Speak Freely / ACLU

By Eoin Higgins

A bill making its way through the Texas legislature would make protesting pipelines a third-degree felony, the same as attempted murder.

Read More Show Less
An Australian flag flutters in the wind in a dry drought-ridden landscape. Virginia Star / Moment / Getty Images

Australia re-elected its conservative governing Liberal-National coalition Saturday, despite the fact that it has refused to cut down significantly on greenhouse gas emissions or coal during its time in power, The New York Times reported.

Read More Show Less
Tree lined street, UK. Richard Newstead / Moment / Getty Images

The UK government will fund the planting of more than 130,000 trees in English towns and cities in the next two years as part of its efforts to fight climate change, The Guardian reported Sunday.

Read More Show Less