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Vuntut Gwitchin Government and Gwich’in Tribal Council celebrate U.S. House vote restoring protections to Iizhik Gwats’an Gwandaii Goodlit

Press Release

The U.S. House of Representatives on Thursday passed the Build Back Better Act, which restores protections to Iizhik Gwats’an Gwandaii Goodlit (The Sacred Place Where Life Begins), also known as the Coastal Plain of the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge. The Act reads:

Section 20001 of Public Law 115–97 is repealed and any leases issued pursuant to section 20001 of Public Law 115–97 are hereby cancelled and all payments related to the leases shall be returned to the lessee(s) within 30 days of enactment of this Act.

The Coastal Plain of the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge is critical to the survival of Vadzaih (caribou). The Porcupine caribou herd completes of one of the world’s largest land animal migrations and is vital to the subsistence lifestyle of the Gwich’in people in the Yukon, Northwest Territories and Alaska.

The Build Back Better Act still requires a majority vote in the Senate. The Vuntut Gwitchin Government and the Gwich’in Tribal Council are calling on the Senate to pass the Act so that, with the signature of President Joe Biden, who “totally opposes” drilling in the Coastal Plain, it becomes law. The Act effectively repeals the Trump Administration’s mandate for oil and gas development in the Coastal Plain and cancels all development leases sold by the U.S. Government.

There is overwhelming support for protection of the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge both within and outside the United States. Polls show that the majority of Americans oppose drilling. In Canada, federal, territorial and Indigenous governments have supported protections. Recognizing it as bad for business, every major bank in the U.S. and Canada and some major international banks now have policies prohibiting the financing of oil and gas development in the Refuge, while investors representing more than $2.5 trillion in assets have openly opposed drilling. In fact, when more than 400,000 acres of the Coastal Plain were leased by the Trump Administration, not a single acre was leased by a major oil and gas company.

For decades, the efforts of the Gwich’in, along with various levels of government, Indigenous organizations, conservation groups and the public have collectively prevented oil and gas exploration and development in the Refuge, despite strong lobbying by major resource companies and the desire of some members of U.S. Congress.

The Vuntut Gwitchin Government and the Gwich’in Tribal Council will continue to work with the Biden Administration, its partners and its many allies to ensure that the calving grounds of the Vadzaih, upon which the Gwich’in have depended for millenia is permanently protected. We acknowledge the support of the House of Representative’s Natural Resources Committee, its chair Raúl Grijalva, and all representatives who used their vote to restore protections to the Coastal Plain.

Quotes

The Gwich’in people have been lobbying Washington for decades to protect the calving grounds of Vadzaih [caribou] and prevent drilling in the Coastal Plain of the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge. We will not stop until these sacred lands are permanently protected. At this critical moment we put our faith in those with the power to vote. We know Congress will do the right thing and listen to the chorus of voices from across the globe that have but one clear message: protect the Refuge.

—Chief Dana Tizya-Tramm, Vuntut Gwitchin Government

The Gwich’in steadfastly oppose any development within the the Coastal Plain of the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge because of its vital and essential role as birthing and calving grounds for the Vadzaih. We continue to stand by the 1988 and 2018 Gwich’in Gathering resolutions and the direction given by our Elders – to push for the President of the United States and Congress to recognize the basic human rights of the Gwich’in people to continue our way of life by prohibiting exploration and development in the calving and post-calving grounds of the Vadzaih in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge.

—Grand Chief Ken Kyikavichik, Gwich’in Tribal Council

Quick Facts

  • The Trump Administration mandated an oil and gas program on the Coastal Plain of the Refuge through enactment of the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act in 2017.
  • After rushing through regulatory processes, the U.S. Bureau of Land Management (BLM), under the Trump Adminsitration, held a lease sale of the Refuge on January 6, 2021 offering 22 tracts of land for lease.
  • No major oil and gas companies bid, however seven leases were purchased by the Alaska Industrial Development and Export Authority (AIDEA), one was purchased by Regenerate Alaska Inc. and one by Knik Arm Services LLC, yielding just $12 million, or one per cent of the $1.1 billion revenue for the U.S. treasury projected by drilling proponents.
  • On January 21, 2021, the day after he took office, President Biden signed an executive order placing a temporary moratorium on oil and gas activity in the Refuge; on June 1, the US Department of Interior suspended oil and gas leases in the Refuge pending a comprehensive analysis of environmental impacts.
  • The Gwich’in Nation, with their partners and allies, have led a successful campaign seeking corporate commitments from global banks, insurers, and investors to protect the Refuge. The five biggest banks in Canada, the six biggest banks in the U.S., and dozens of international banks have updated their policies to refuse financing to oil and gas development in the Refuge. Global insurance companies are following suit.
  • The Porcupine Caribou are one of the last healthy barren ground caribou herds left in Canada. It is the only barren-ground caribou herd in North America to be increasing in population size and at high populations.
  • The Porcupine Caribou Herd’s population was recently estimated at approximately 218,000 animals, up from an estimated 169,000 in 2010.
  • The Arctic National Wildlife Range was established in 1960 to preserve unique wildlife, wilderness and recreational values. In 1980, this was expanded and re-designated as the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge under the Alaska National Interest Lands Conservation Act.
  • 5 million acres of the Coastal Plain area of the 19.6 million-acre Refuge has been in a constant state of limbo as Section 1002 of the Alaska National Interest Lands Conservation Act deferred a decision on whether or not to allow oil and gas exploration and development in this area. This area has also been referred to as the ‘1002’ lands.
  • In 1988, Gwich’in Elders delivered a clear mandate to permanently protect the sacred calving grounds, and to do it ‘in a good way’.

Contacts

Gyde Shepherd
Communications Manager
Vuntut Gwitchin Government
[email protected]
(613) 804-4273

Tony Devlin
Senior Communications Advisor
Gwitchin Tribal Council
[email protected]
(867) 678-0868

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