Vuntut Gwitchin, Yukon gov't decry U.S. bill that opens Alaska refuge to drilling
U.S. tax bill passed this week includes provision to allow exploration in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge
Dana Tizya-Tramm, a councillor with the Vuntut Gwitchin government, says his people are fearful and anxious — but also determined to keep up the fight.
"The Gwich'in will never, ever stop working towards this area's protection. And mark my words: we will gain traction with the right leadership one of these days, and you will see this area fully protected," he said.
It's not looking good right now, though, for the Gwich'in and others who have been fighting for years to protect the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge (ANWR) in Alaska from oil and gas drilling. The U.S. tax reform bill that passed this week included a provision to allow for drilling lease sales in parts of the refuge.
In a joint statement on Friday, the Vuntut Gwitchin and Yukon territorial governments said they were "saddened" by the passage of the bill, saying it "goes against the spirit of the Canada-U.S. Agreement on Porcupine caribou herd conservation."
ANWR is home to the calving grounds of the Porcupine caribou herd, a traditional food source for the Gwich'in.
"These caribou have nursed us through an ice age. We're intrinsically tied, interchangeable — we're part of a lateral ecosystem," said Tizya-Tramm.
"If we continue to irresponsibly develop, then what does that say about all of the animals and people across our land? It will be communicating that nothing is safe."
Earlier this week, protestors gathered in Fort McPherson, N.W.T., to demonstrate against the opening of ANWR.
'We were making progress'
Tizya-Tramm and other Indigenous representatives have also gone to Washington to lobby, and he says many U.S. politicians have joined their fight, such as Democratic Sen. Maria Cantwell of Washington.
"We still have at least a year to stop major development, and to do that we need all the reasonable voices," he said.
"We were making progress with President Obama. Unfortunately, President Trump doesn't take a longer view, and doesn't have as calm a politics."
According to the statement from the Yukon and Vuntut Gwitchin governments, they will "endeavour to make sure a Canadian voice is heard during the U.S. regulatory process."
The battle over drilling in ANWR goes back decades, and Tizya-Tramm says that's why he's not throwing in the towel now.
"This is about the third time now that we've seen this happen — where it's come so close," he said.
"It is the people that have always held the power and when we stand together, we can make anything a reality."
With files from James Miller