Published June 29, 2018
Alaskan and Canadian delegates resolve to defend their food and culture
TSIIGEHTCHIC, Northwest Territories, Canada – On June 26, the second day of the 2018 Gwich’in Gathering, delegates of the Gwich’in Nation unanimously reaffirmed a resolution to protect the birthplace and nursery grounds of the Porcupine caribou herd. The resolution calls for the United States Congress to recognize the human rights of the Gwich’in people by permanently protecting the coastal plain of the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge.
Leading up to the vote, delegates from northeast Alaska and northwest Canada stood up and spoke about the importance of the Porcupine herd to their families and communities as food and the foundation of their culture and way of life. The Nation first unified around the resolution in 1988.
“Thirty years ago our elders told us to defend this sacred place, and today they told us to continue fighting for our human rights and way of life,” said Bernadette Demientieff, executive director of the Gwich’in Steering Committee. “They reminded us that the Gwich’in people have thrived on these lands for thousands of years because of what we know and how we live, and that we are resilient because of how we take care of our lands, the animals and each other. We vow to stand together in unity, in love and in prayers for the well being of our people.”
The Gwich’in Gathering has taken place every two years since 1988. This is the first Gathering since the United States Congress passed a tax bill that allows oil and gas activities in the Arctic Refuge.
“Protecting the Arctic Refuge is what we have to do for all Gwich’in people,” said Chief James John of Arctic Village. “This is about protecting the caribou and protecting our way of life. This is about saving our people.”
The Gathering brings together Gwich’in people from Alaska and Canada to share stories, news, dances, food and culture, and to make decisions as the Gwich’in Nation.
“Our belief is that our lives are sacred,” said Lorraine Netro of Old Crow, Yukon, Canada, a member of the Vuntut Gwitch’in First Nation and board member with the Gwich’in Steering Committee. “We have the right to live our cultural and traditional way of life for all time. We make decisions today knowing that they will impact our grandchildren’s grandchildren. We must today protect the caribou so that our people can rely on them seven generations and beyond, just as our ancestors did before us.”
The resolution establishes the Gwich’in people’s reliance on caribou for food, clothing, shelter, tools, and life itself, and asserts their inherent right to live their way of life.
“As indigenous people of this land, we owe it to our ancestors and future generations to come to protect our way of life so that we are able to live as we always have,” said Tonya Garnett, executive director of the Native Village of Venetie Tribal Government.