Humanity has created the illusion that we can continue to thrive on this planet of our own accord, separate from our environment. But it is our own overconsumption that accelerated climate change. And it is proving a humbling wake up call for humanity that, in actuality, we are all connected.
I am Neets’aii Gwich’in from Alaska, and the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge is our ancestral land. Our communities still rely heavily on the Porcupine caribou herd for sustenance, as well as our culture and spiritual wellbeing. Our elders have taught us that our connection is sacred. Long ago, they predicted these changes in weather, and that one day we would need to return to simpler ways of living and being. They told us we would not be able to survive if we do not protect the birthing grounds of the Porcupine caribou herd from oil development. They told us that we need to do this not just for Gwich’in, but for all of humanity. Protection of the refuge is a human rights issue.
The Porcupine caribou and the critical life-supporting ecosystem of the coastal plain of the Arctic refuge are in danger. Oil exploration and drilling would disrupt the birthing grounds of the Porcupine caribou, which the Gwich'in call "the sacred place where life begins." Without the Porcupine caribou, our food, warmth, culture, and spirituality would be devastated.
Our communities, along with millions of Americans, recognize the value of the Arctic refuge for our world and have been fighting for over 30 years to protect it. Finally, this year, Congress can vote on legislation that would protect our ancestral home — the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge in Alaska — for generations to come.
In January 2014, President Obama made the exciting announcement that he would recommend permanent wilderness protection for the coastal plain of the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge. The president fulfilled his promise on April 3, 2014, by completing the official Record of Decision for the CCP, transmitting his recommendation to Congress.
In January 2015, Rep. Jared Huffman (D-CA) introduced legislation — The Udall-Eisenhower Arctic Wilderness Act (HR 239) — that would designate 1.5 million acres of wilderness along the coastal plain of Alaska's Arctic National Wildlife Refuge as a component of the National Wilderness Preservation System. Such a designation would protect the refuge against oil and gas development, and preserve the birthing and calving grounds of the Porcupine caribou from the roads, pipelines, and oil derricks that accompany such exploration.
If we don't find further protections, we remain open to traumatic oil exploration and drilling, which will only exacerbate the problem of global warming. We thought Congress would vote on the bill last year, because it's the right thing to do. But it's clear they need to hear from their constituents — you and I — that protecting our planet for future generations is a priority.
This year, a diverse coalition is standing with my tribe to protect the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge. Veterans, artists, outdoor enthusiasts, and of course, faith communities, are standing strong with us. With the power of our stories and our movement, a groundswell is growing to call for the protection of the refuge.
Protecting the Arctic refuge is symbolic of how we treat the last remaining intact ecosystems of our planet that play such a large role in mitigating the effects of climate change. All of us have the right to clean air, water, and land and we must do what we can now to prevent the privatization and destruction of these places.
Together, we can protect America's Arctic refuge — our home — once and for all. Together, we are the Arctic.