Who We Are
Neet’sai Gwich’in, Arctic Village
“We are the Ones Who Have Everything to Lose”
Maybe there are too few of us to matter. Maybe people think Indians are not important enough to consider in making their energy decisions. But it’s my people who are threatened by this development. We are the ones who have everything to lose.
The oil companies keep saying that all their roads and pipelines aren’t going to bother the caribou. But we know the caribou. We know they don’t like all that stuff, especially when they are having their calves. We are concerned about all the salt and chemicals they put on their roads. It can drain onto the tundra, get into the water, and be unhealthy for the young caribou. A report from the Canadian government tells us that the caribou have already been disturbed around the oil fields. If we lose the caribou there will be no more forever.
Sarah James, Arctic Refuge: a Circle of Testimony
Vuntut Gwich’in, Old Crow
“Contaminants in the Yukon”
I was raised on Old Crow Flats in northern Yukon. Old Crow Flats is one of the world’s great wetlands, having more than 2000 lakes throughout 600,000 hectares just above the Arctic Circle. The name of my people—Vuntut Gwitchin—means “the caribou people of the lakes.” We’ve lived here for thousands and thousands of years.
My grandfather said to me, “You know, some day when you’re a woman you’re going to see a lot of changes. When there’s only loons out there, you’re going to know then that something’s wrong with the land and with the weather.”
That was thirty years ago. Now I go back to Old Crow Flats every three or four years, and I see the changes in the land. I sit at that same spot and I remember my grandfather’s words. Every time I return I see fewer animals, fewer fish, fewer birds. The water is silent and so crystal clear I can see to the bottom. There used to be so much activity, so much aquatic life-such as insects and little shrimp-like things that are food for other animals like muskrat—that I couldn’t see to the bottom. Now I can. And now I see a pair of loons out there, and that’s about it.
Norma Kassi, Northern Perspectives
Gwich’yaa Gwich’in, Fort Yukon
Neet’sai Gwich’in, Venetie
Gwich’yaa Gwich’in, Fort Yukon
“The Land Where Life Begins”
The Hearts of the Gwich’in Nation and the Porcupine caribou herd of Alaska have been linked since time immemorial. The Gwich’in people’s creation story tells that the Gwich’in will always keep a part of the caribou heart, and the caribou will always keep a part of the Gwich’in heart. The biological heart of the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge, known to the Gwich’in as Iizhik Gwats’an Gwandaii Goodlit (the Sacred Place Where Life Begins), is the calving and nursery ground of the Porcupine caribou herd. Now this sacred place is being threatened by the proposal to commence widespread oil-drilling explorations.
Luci Beach, Native Peoples Magazine
A Tribute to Jonathon Solomon Sr.
“It is our belief that the future of the Gwich’in and the future of the caribou are the same. We cannot stand by and let them sell our children’s heritage to the oil companies.”
Johathon Solomon, Sr., The Seattle Times, Monday, March 5th, 2001
Jonathon Solomon passed away on July 13, 2006. Jonathon served on the Gwich’in Steering Committee since its formation. He drew upon decades of experience and knowledge from the Rampart Dam fight to the Alaska Native Land Claims Settlement, which helped to put the Gwich’in Nation in a stronger position to protect the Sacred Place Where Life Begins. We will continue to draw strength from his legacy.