The Indigenous Nations “Pray In” took place at the U.S. Capitol in Washington, D.C., on December 6, 2017, the 57th anniversary of the creation of the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge. Photo: Liz Gorman for Indigenous Media Rising

Native Sun News Today: Indigenous 'pray-in' takes aim at drilling in Alaska refuge

Opening the Arctic to oil exploration threatens way of life

By Talli Nauman
Native Sun News Today
Health & Environment Editor

WASHINGTON — United States Senators joined indigenous people in protecting a way of life.

Leaders of the Gwich’in Nation and the Inupiaq Tribe, who traveled here from northern Alaska and the Yukon Territory in Canada, led a “pray-in” on December 6, urging the U.S Congress to drop Arctic oil drilling from the federal tax bill.

The event coincided with the 57th anniversary of the creation of the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge and with the federal Bureau of Land Management’s annual lease offering in the National Petroleum Reserve-Alaska, located 100 miles west of the refuge.

The refuge and the reserve surround Gwich’in and Inupiaq territories where communities claim 40,000 years of civilization based on migrating with caribou, hunting, fishing and gathering for subsistence.p>

“I’m a hunter living a subsistence life in the Yukon, a life that was passed on to me by my parents and generations of family,” said Jeffrey Peter, Vuntut Gwich’in from the Yukon Territory. "I’m going to be a father soon, and I deserve the right to pass this life on to my son,” he said.p>

“The Gwich’in Nation of Alaska and Canada have always and will continue to subsist on the Porcupine Caribou herd, whose calving grounds are in the coastal plain of the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge," his delegation said in a media release.

“Congress has no right to take that away from us,” Peter told a crowd gathered outside the U.S. Capitol. “We cannot allow drilling in the Arctic Refuge.”

Gwich’in Led Indigenous Nations “Pray In” on the Arctic Annive...

Gwich’in Led Indigenous Nations “Pray In” in Washington D.C. on the Arctic Anniversary Urging Congress to Protect the Sacred Arctic Refuge

Posted by Indigenous Rising Media on Wednesday, December 6, 2017
Indigenous Rising Media on Facebook: Indigenous Nations “Pray In” in Washington D.C.

The group held signs in Gwich’in Nation colors reading, “Protect the Arctic,” “Indigenous Rights are Human Rights,” and “Don’t Use the Tax Bill to Attack Indigenous Rights.” Representatives from the Gwich’in Nation and Inupiaq leaders prayed, danced, and drummed during the gathering.

“We are outside the capitol today to assert our tribal sovereignty and indigenous identities, affirm our commitment to protecting sacred places and demand Congress do the same,” said Bernadette Demientieff, executive director of the Gwich’in Steering Committee.

The committee formed in 1988 in response to proposals to drill for oil in the refuge, which covers the coastal plain that members know in their language as the Sacred Place Where Life Begins.

“The Inupiaq people do not want this drilling, we do not want to open the Arctic Refuge to drilling,” said Adrienne Titus, an Inupiaq leader who works with the University of Alaska Native Studies and Rural Development program. "I traveled here from Alaska because we need to stop Congress from allowing this to pass.”

Sebi Medina-Tayac of the Piscataway Nation, in whose territory Washington, D.C. is located, welcomed the group and spoke of connecting struggles for indigenous rights. His nation is fighting a pipeline across the Potomac River, he said.

Dallas Goldtooth, Keep It in the Ground campaigner for the Indigenous Environmental Network, who served as master of ceremonies, said 95 percent of the Arctic Slope is already open for oil development. “We have to stop the other 5 percent.”

"The tax bill being debated is bad across the board, but it especially highlights the ugly collusion between fossil fuel interests and the GOP,” said Goldtooth, a Dakota-Diné. “We must resist the fossil fuel industry’s continued attacks on indigenous rights and sovereignty. We must draw the line on the protection of our indigenous homelands; we must defend the sacred.”


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Opening the Arctic to oil exploration threatens way of life
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