The US Congress is again considering opening the Coastal Plain of the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge to oil and gas drilling. The proposal threatens to violate the internationally recognized human rights to culture, subsistence, health, and religion of the Gwich’in people of northeastern Alaska and northwestern Canada. Since time immemorial, the Gwich’in have relied physically, culturally and spiritually on the Porcupine Caribou Herd that calves each spring on the Coastal Plain. The herd and its birthing and nursery grounds are so significant to the Gwich’in that they call the Coastal Plain Izhik Gwats’an Gwandaii Goodlit, “The Sacred Place Where All Life Begins.”
For the Gwich’in, a long-term decline in the herd’s population or a major change in its migration would be physically and culturally devastating.