Gwich’in Steering Committee Youth Council Speaks at the 14th Session of the UN Expert Mechanism on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples

July 16, 2021

On Monday, July 12, the Gwich’in Steering Committee Youth Council was invited to give a live statement at the North America and Africa regional meeting of the 14th session of the Expert Mechanism on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples (EMRIP). EMRIP is prioritizing Indigenous voices during the comment period of a draft report on the rights of the Indigenous Child, alongside other critical work. Full text from the speech follows.

Gwich’in Steering Committee Youth Council 

Statement to United Nations Virtual Regional Meeting
of the Expert Mechanism on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples

July 12, 2021

Drin Gwinzii! Shroozhii Lexine Demientieff oozhii, Gwichyaa Zhee Gwatsan Ilthlee

As Gwich’in youth, we believe that the power of our ancestors runs strong in our blood. We support our traditional skills, knowledge and values. Our growing minds need positivity and support for our growth. We live between two forever-changing worlds. The Gwich’in Nation, of Alaska and Canada, have been defending the calving grounds of the Arctic Refuge which is deeply connected to our way of life.

Our elders formed the Gwich’in Steering Committee in the 1980s to protect our lands and preserve our way of life. In 2017, Arctic Refuge was opened to oil and gas development. In January 2021, our sacred land was sold without our free, prior, and informed consent. Although the Biden Administration has halted development in the Arctic, we are continuing to seek permanent protections for “Iizhik Gwats’an Gwandaii Goodlit” (The Sacred Place Where Life Begins).

The Gwich’in believe the youth is one of the most powerful resources and we are dedicated to sharing our story. We want to teach the world that drilling in the Coastal Plain puts the future of the Porcupine Caribou Herd at risk and any impact to this land will impact the herd, which impacts the Gwich’in. We are interconnected to our land, our water and our animals.

We are dependent on this land for our survival. We have cared for this land because it is part of us. To us, the caribou are who we are. They are the foundation of our songs, stories and dances. We have lived alongside the caribou since time immemorial. Our identity as Gwich’in is not negotiable.

Beyond the serious threats to the caribou, development on our land threatens many other rights. Development threatens our right to culture; our right to health; our rights to clean environment, water, and air; our right to be free from violence. We have not agreed to this exploration, sale, or development and we call on the international community to support us as we ask for our rights to be respected. We want to ensure that this land for the generations to come.

Over the last year, we have worked to convince many others that the calving grounds deserve protection. The lease sale brought in less than one percent of projected revenue. All major U.S. banks have refused to fund drilling in the arctic. And insurers are coming out and saying they won’t insure this type of work. But the U.S. Government has not yet restored permanent protections. Until that is done, we cannot rest.

Gwich’in will stand together and safeguard our vision of the future and ensure its delivery into the world through us, the Gwich’in youth, with guidance from our Elders and with Creator that this will come to pass.

Mahsi Choo thank you very much.

Lexine Demientieff
Gwich’in Steering Committee Youth Council

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