Gwich’in Steering Committee and Gwich’in Youth Council Respond to Bank of America’s Quiet Arctic Policy Shift; GSC Requests Meeting with Bank Leadership

February 14, 2024

The Gwich’in Steering Committee voices deep concern over Bank of America’s recent policy shift, as reported by The New York Times. This change could undermine Bank of America’s public commitment to avoid financing oil and gas exploration and development in the coastal plain of the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge.

The Gwich’in Steering Committee recalls Bank of America’s previous assurance that they “have not historically participated in project finance for oil and gas exploration in the Arctic,” which they codified into policy. The Gwich’in have been culturally and spiritually connected to this sacred place for thousands of years, and these changes could threaten our land, water and animals, which impacts our way of life. 

Every year the Porcupine Caribou Herd migrates to Iizhik Gwats’an Gwandaii Goodlit (The Sacred Place Where Life Begins), also known as the coastal plain of the Arctic Refuge, where they will give birth to as many as 40,000 calves in just a two week period. The caribou continues to migrate to the coastal plain because the area offers abundant plant life for nursing mothers, winds from the Beaufort Sea that reduce insect harassment, and relatively few predators, which are essential conditions for the survival of calves. As caribou people, the Gwich’in have always been spiritually tied to both the animals and this place. The survival of our people depends on the survival of our land, water and animals. 

“Bank of America’s decision to roll back its commitment, transitioning from a blanket prohibition to merely ‘enhanced due diligence’ for Arctic oil and gas projects threatens the Gwich’in way of life and the Porcupine Caribou Herd,” said Bernadette Demientieff, Executive Director of the Gwich’in Steering Committee. “This is about more than profit; it’s about the survival of our culture, our spirituality and our self-determination, which interconnects with the land, water and animals that sustain us.”

The Gwich’in Youth Council shared, “The Arctic Refuge is much more than a piece of land with oil underneath it. It is sacred land where birds from all seven continents migrate, where many animals live, and is the calving grounds for the Porcupine Caribou Herd. As young people we understand that our voice is not always taken seriously, yet we must express our concern for our future in a rapidly changing climate. We have an inherent right to continue our traditional ways of living, and we urge Bank of America to honor our way of life, our identity, and our human rights.”  

The Gwich’in Steering Committee urgently requests a meeting with Bank of America to address these recent policy changes. We stress the importance of honoring the promise that was previously made to not finance oil and gas projects in the Arctic Refuge. We urge Bank of America to consider the rights, wellbeing, and free, prior and informed consent (FPIC) of Indigenous Peoples in all projects it finances and to avoid projects that harm Indigenous Peoples or violate our rights. This policy shift poses a significant risk to Bank of America, and the lack of consultation or notification about this policy change contradicts our right to FPIC. 

“Bank of America must reconsider its position and honor its commitments to the Gwich’in and to the Arctic. This new policy undermines a promise made and must be corrected for the benefit of all,” said Demientieff. “The survival of the Gwich’in people and the protection of sacred land and animals for generations to come are non-negotiable. We will never stop fighting to protect our people, our animals and our homelands from destructive drilling, and we will prevail.”

About the Gwich’in Steering Committee

The Gwich’in comprise the northernmost Native Nation living in 15 small villages across Alaska and Canada. Since time immemorial, the Gwich’in have been stewards of these lands, which include the coastal plain of the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge. The 1.5 million-acre coastal plain is the calving ground of the Porcupine Caribou Herd. The Gwich’in people and other Indigenous communities depend on the herd to sustain their way of life, people, and culture. 

The Gwich’in Steering Committee has been seeking permanent protections for the coastal plain since the 1980s using diverse strategies with a coalition of allies. After decades of bipartisan protection, the Trump administration opened the area to oil and gas leasing in 2017. Although tracts of the coastal plain were auctioned off under the Trump administration during a 2021 lease sale, all energy companies and legacy leaseholders walked away from their leases in 2022 and remaining leases were canceled in 2023. However, the 2017 Tax and Jobs Act mandates a second lease sale to be held by the end 2024, and Iizhik Gwats’an Gwandaii Goodlit remains under threat until protections are reinstated. 

To learn more about the advocacy work and campaigns engaging financial institutions that the Gwich’in Steering Committee and allies have led, please visit ourarcticrefuge.org.

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