Indigenous group targets U.S. Senators to oppose drilling in Arctic wildlife refuge
Gwich'in Steering Committee concerned that Trump administration has sights on Arctic National Wildlife Refuge
Gwich'in people in northern Canada and Alaska are targeting a handful of U.S. senators in their efforts to prevent oil drilling in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge (ANWR) in Alaska.
"At one time or another, they showed compassion for the Refuge. They once voted in the right way," said Bernadette Demientieff, the executive-director of the Gwich'in Steering Committee, which represents Gwich'in people in the Northwest Territories, Yukon and Alaska.
The committee is urging the public to contact five Republican senators in Nevada, Arizona, Colorado and South Carolina and ask them to help stop oil exploration in the calving grounds of the Porcupine caribou herd in the northeast corner of Alaska.
The migration route of the herd ranges from northeast Alaska, across Yukon, and into the northwest fringe of the Northwest Territories.
30 years of lobbying
Oil drilling has been blocked in the calving grounds since the 1980s, with supporters and opponents of oil exploration lobbying politicians in Washington on the issue ever since.
But according to a recent story in the Washington Post, the Trump administration is now working to allow seismic testing in ANWR. That's seen as a precursor to drilling.
Opponents argue allowing development in the calving grounds threaten the Porcupine herd's survival, while supporters say drilling and the caribou can co-exist.
Demientieff said Gwich'in representatives have made numerous trips to Washington, as well as the U.S. southwest and South Carolina, to lobby politicians.
"We decided to show them how serious we are and go to their homes, talk to their people," said Demientieff.
She said few people understand how much the Gwich'in rely on the Porcupine herd for food and spiritual sustenance.
"We really encourage everybody to learn, you know, get familiar with the issue, because this is our way of life — this is who we are," she said.
"We can't negotiate our identity."