Gwich’in Steering Committee
Speaking with One Voice
The Gwich’in Steering Committee was formed in 1988 in response to proposals to drill for oil in the Sacred Place Where Life Begins, the coastal plain of the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge.
Our elders recognized that oil development in caribou calving grounds was a threat to the very heart of our people. They called upon the chiefs of all Gwich’in villages from Canada to Alaska to come together for a traditional gathering – the first in more than a century. At the gathering in Arctic Village we addressed the issue with a talking stick in accordance with our traditional way, and decided unanimously that we would speak with one voice against oil and gas development in the birthing and nursing grounds of the Porcupine Caribou Herd. Our unified voice is expressed in a formal resolution, Gwich’in Niintsyaa.
Time and time again, the Gwich’in Steering Committee has presented testimony in front of the US Congress, the United Nations Special Rapporteur on Indigenous Peoples, and public hearings. Without this testimony many would not know that this is a Human Rights issue to the Gwich’in.
Our achievements would not have been possible without the ongoing wisdom and guidance of our elders and our many friends and supporters.
Bernadette Demientieff the Executive Director of Gwich’in Steering Committee is Gwichyaa Zhee Gwich’in she was raised in Fort Yukon and spent her summers in Venetie. Bernadette’s great grandmother was Marcis (Horace) Moses from Old Crow YT Canadian and her grandfather, Daniel Horace, is from Fort Yukon, Alaska. Her parents are Betty (Walter Flitt) of Alaska and Bernard (Melanie) Hornsby of Louisiana.
Bernadette is the mother of 5 children and grandmother of 5 beautiful grandchildren. She takes this position very serious and it has transformed her life to better serve her people. Bernadette stands strong to protect the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge-Coastal Plain, the Porcupine Caribou Herd and the Gwich’in way of life.
Bernadette is a council member for the Arctic Refuge Defense Council. She also serves as an advisory board member for NDN Collective, the Care of Creations Task Force, Native Movement Alaska, and Defend the Sacred Alaska. She is a tribal member of the Gwichyaa Zhee Gwich’in Tribal Government, and on the leadership council for ITR. She continues use her voice for what she believes in. She stands strong to protect the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge-Coastal Plain, The Porcupine Caribou Herd and the Gwich’in way of life. Our Identity is non negotiable, we will never sell our culture and our traditional life style for any amount of money.
The Steering Committee Board Of Directors
Carolyn Lennie was born in Inuvik and raised in Tsiigehtchic, Northwest Territories, Canada. Carolyn’s parents are Fredrick and Grace Blake and her Grandparents are Fred and Elizabeth Blake of Tetlit Zheh and Dale and Rose Clark of Tsiigehtchic. Carolyn is married to Sammy L. Lennie and raised six children together. Carolyn and husband Sammy raise their six children in both the Gwich’in and Inuvialuit cultures.
Carolyn achieved a diploma in Management Studies from Aurora College and is pursuing a Bachelors of Arts Degree majoring in Rural Development in Tribal Governance with the University of Alaska Fairbanks.
Carolyn is currently serving in various leadership roles at the community level as the President of the Gwicha Gwich’in Council, the President of the Renewable Resource Council, and the Chairperson of the Tsiigehtchic District Education Council and at the regional level as a Board of Director for the Gwich’in Tribal Council and an executive member of the Beaufort Delta Education Council.
Carolyn believes in preserving our culture, language, and traditional practices for the benefit of our future generations.
Elizabeth Vittrekwa is from the Teetl’it Gwich’in from Fort McPherson, Northwest Territories. Her parents are Charlie & Mary Snowshoe. Her Grandparents are Edward & Elizabeth Snowshoe and Ronnie & Laura Pascal. She is married to Peter J. Vittrekwa and together they have 5 children and 2 Grandchildren. Elizabeth recognizes her parents, grandparents, her husband and the Creator for instilling in her cultural and traditional values that give me the incentive to help in the protection of our land and animals.
She completed the Office Administrative Diploma Program and worked in various organizations. She was a representative on the Teetl’it Gwich’in Band Council, the Renewable Resource Council and the Local District Education Authority. Presently, she is a community member on the Leadership Resiliency Program in Fort McPherson.
Lorraine Netro is from the Vuntut Gwitchin First Nation in Old Crow, Yukon Canada. With the traditional teachings of her mom and grandmothers and achievements in both worlds, she provides leadership for her people in advocating for protection and conservation of our Sacred Lands and Animals for all future generations.
James Nathaniel Jr.
James’ parents are the late James Nathaniel Sr. and Francine Williams-Nathaniel. James currently works for the Draanjik Gwich’in Tribe in Chalkyitsik, Alaska with the BIA Roads Program.
James graduated from the University of Alaska/Interior Aleutian Campus with a degree in Tribal Management in 2011, and the Tanana Valley College with a degree in Drafting Technology in 2009.
After receiving his education, he took a position with the Council of Athabascan Tribal Governments (CATG) as their Travel/Procurement Officer for seven years in Fort Yukon, Alaska. He went back home to Chalkyitsik in 2015 and began working as the Transportation Director for the Tribe.
In November 2002, James was assigned to the Tribal Administrator position in Chalkyitsik. During his tenure, he coordinated program development, grants writing, and accounting procedures. His experience in environmental planning/cleanup, including protecting our pristine waters and land, was instrumental in his interest to serve on the Gwich’in Steering Committee.
Margaret Henry John
Elder Advisory Board
Neets’aii Gwich’in, Venetie
Ernest Erickwas raised in K’ahtsik (Roberts’ Fish Camp) and Viiihtaii (Venetie), Alaska. His maternal grandparents were James Roberts and Myra (White Eye) Roberts and his paternal grandparents were Paul Erick and Natalie (John) Erick. Ernest has been with the Gwich’in Steering Committee since its inception in 1988. He has served as 1st Chief of the Native Village of Venetie Tribal Government and 1st Chief of Venetie Village Council. Additionally, he has served as Regional Board Member to the Yukon Flats School District and has over 20 years serving as Indian Child Welfare Tribal Judge.
Ernest is an avid hunter, trapper, fisherman, and dog musher. He has a great love for his family and community and works hard at keeping our traditional Gwich’in language and culture alive and well.
Gwichyaa Gwich’in, Fort Yukon
Clarence Alexander was raised at “Shoo Taii” or the “Happy Trail”. He was 1st Chief of Fort Yukon from 1980-1994 and has worked extensively to clean up the Yukon River, resulting in the closure of numerous open-burning dumps and the removal or recycling of millions pounds of waste. In November 2011 Clarence received the Citizens Medal from President Obama for demonstrating how much good a dedicated leader can accomplish.
President Obama praised Alexander for his environmental work protecting the Yukon River Watershed, his involvement on the Council of Athabascan Tribal Governments, and his efforts to preserve cultural traditions. Alexander co-founded the Yukon River Inter-Tribal Watershed Council.
Back home, Clarence works hard on ensuring that the Gwich’in language will be spoken for generations to come and is a strong steward of education.
Trimble Gilbert is a Gwich’in leader that has survived off the porcupine caribou herd since he was born. Trimble and his wife Mary have a big family who they have passed on their knowledge to.
Trimble recently received an Honorary Doctorate from the University of Alaska Fairbanks. He is well known throughout Alaska and Canada for his wise guidance and his traditional knowledge. Trimble is very passionate about protecting the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge- Coastal Plain, and the Gwich’in way of life.
Gideon James is an Elder that has taught many of our people over the years how to make historical tools and traditional drums. He has been standing up for the Gwich’in ways of life since the very first threat in Arctic Refuge. He still to this day gives guidance to the Gwich’in Steering Committee and is a well-respected leader amongst out people.