Native American Tribe Opposing Alaska Drilling by Big Oil

Political activism has begun by the Gwich'in Athabascan Native American tribe opposing Alaska drilling by Big Oil with a proposal to open the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge in Alaska to oil exploration.


| October/November 1996



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The Gwich'in Athabascan peoples newfound political passion concerns a proposal to open the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge in Alaska to oil exploration.


PHOTO: PAMELA MILLER

Native American tribe opposing Alaska drilling by Big Oil with the news of a proposal to open the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge in Alaska to oil exploration. (See the Alaska photos in the image gallery.)

Native American Tribe Opposing Alaska Drilling by Big Oil

The Gwich'in Athabascan peoples—a small group of Native Americans whose 15 villages pepper areas along the Canada-Alaska border—are not known for their political activism. But now they are fighting a fierce political battle as the very survival of their culture hinges on the outcome of the November elections.

Their newfound political passion concerns a proposal to open the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge in Alaska to oil exploration. Congress passed a resolution to allow drilling in the protected federal reserve as a rider to the 1995 budget, which President Clinton subsequently vetoed. (Republican presidential hopeful Bob Dole is in favor of the drilling proposal.) Clinton has promised to veto any legislation that supports oil drilling in the refuge; however, his veto power may be restricted in a Republican-dominated Congress.

To complicate matters further, the Gwich'in face opposition within the Alaskan community of Native Americans. Both the Inupiat Eskimo and the Alaska Federation of Natives (AFN) are in favor of drilling in the refuge. Opponents of drilling in the refuge claim the Inupiat and the AFN are pawns of the oil cartel.

Caribou People  

The Gwich'in are the last surviving native people in North America who live almost entirely by hunting and gathering. Subsisting largely on the Porcupine Caribou Herd, the Gwich'in claim they're fighting Big Oil and Congress to preserve the very essence of their people: Porcupine Caribou. Gwich'in culture centers both materially and spiritually on caribou. "We are caribou people," says Sarah James, spokeswoman for the Gwich'in Steering Committee. "We have a ritual connection with that herd." James believes the Gwich'in will face "cultural genocide" if drilling in the refuge goes forward.





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