Aerial view of a porcuine-caribou herd in the 1002 area of the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge coastal plain, with the Brooks Range mountains in the distance to the south. Photo: U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service

By Robinson Meyer
2 December 2017

(The Atlantic) – When Bernadette Demientieff was in high school, she gave up her heritage. Demientieff is a member of the Gwich’in, an indigenous tribe of roughly 9,000 people that spans north-central Alaska and northern Canada. “The ways of living in this world that are being pushed on our people” got to her, she told me. She moved south to Fairbanks, Alaska, and grew disconnected from her people and their land. She had kids. She grew up.

And then, one day in 2014, something called to her, she says. She was in Arctic Village, a small Gwich’in settlement at the edge of Alaska’s wilderness. She felt the urge to step out onto the tundra. She started walking, up and out of the center of town—and then she turned around and looked: In front of her stretched the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge, the largest area of untouched wilderness in the United States. The land, an open expanse of peaks and rivers, spanned hundreds of miles past the horizon to the unseen, icy flat of the Arctic Ocean.

“I started crying and crying,” she said. “And I asked the Creator for forgiveness.”

Now 42, Demientieff is the executive director of the Gwich’in Steering Committee. She has spent years trying to protect the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge, or ANWR (pronounced AN-wahr), from oil and gas exploration. That fight suffered a major loss Saturday, the result of lawmakers voting on an expansive and quickly written bill several thousand miles away.

The Tax Cuts and Jobs Act, which the Senate passed early Saturday morning, will change federal law on a matter that has little to do with the tax code. The bill authorizes the sale of oil and gas leases in a section of the ANWR on Alaska’s North Slope, the coastal plain that faces the Arctic Ocean. Soon, energy companies will be able to search for—and extract—oil and gas from the frozen tundra.

The Senate bill will now be reconciled with the House version in conference and go to President Donald Trump’s desk for his signature.

It brings a quiet end to the battle over whether to drill in the ANWR, one of the longest-running and most acrimonious battles in U.S. environmental history. The question has been embedded in federal law for 40 years, nearly as long as Alaska has been a state.

No one will be more affected by the opening of ANWR than Alaska’s indigenous people, who will live among—and work on—the rigs, drills, and pipelines that would follow the discovery of any oil or gas reserve. The discovery of oil or gas in the region could bring an economic windfall to the subsistence tribes that live on Alaska’s North Slope, the coastal plain that faces the Arctic Ocean. But if a major disaster—like an oil spill or gas leak—were to occur in the area, it would devastate their only homeland. [more]

The GOP Tax Bill Could Forever Alter Alaska’s Indigenous Tribes



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