To Save a Way of Life, Native Defenders Push to Protect the Arctic Refuge

By Katherine Bagley
Yale Environment 360
September 3, 2020

Gwich’in elder Sarah James has long fought efforts to drill in Alaska’s Arctic National Wildlife Refuge. In an e360 interview, she talks about the Trump administration’s move to open these lands to development and why the fate of the refuge and of her people are intertwined.

For more than three decades, the Gwich’in Native community has helped to fight off repeated attempts by Republican administrations and fossil fuel companies to drill for oil and gas in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge in Alaska, the largest remaining stretch of wilderness in the United States.

Last month, however, the Trump administration finalized plans to open up the refuge’s entire 1.5-million-acre coastal plain — thought to contain the largest untapped onshore oil reserve in North America — to fossil fuel development. The Gwich’in refer to the coastal plain as Iizhik Gwats’an Gwandaii Goodlit, or the “sacred place where life begins.” It is the birthing grounds for the Porcupine caribou herd, upon which the tribe’s culture, history, and livelihood are based.

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