The caribou and the people are as one, and the culture is completely tied to it. In their mythology, the Gwich'in were derived from a heart shared with caribou, so each will always know what the other is doing. "The Gwich'in of northern Canada and Alaska have lived in their Arctic homeland since the last ice age. ... There is direct archaeological evidence that the Gwich'in have depended upon the Porcupine Caribou Herd for at least 12,000 years. They still depend upon the caribou for their subsistence needs as well as their cultural survival.--ccp"
The Arctic National Wildlife Refuge in Alaska is the home of the Porcupine Caribou Herd's calving grounds, located in the Northen coastal plain. This coastal area referred to as ANWaR or the 1002 lands by the oil companies, is to the Gwitchin Vadzaih googii vi dehk'it gwanlii - or "sacred place where life begins," and is *exactly* where the U.S. Republicans want to drill for the *possibility* of oil. "It would be like drilling in a hospital nursery," states Norma Kassi, Gwich'in spokeswoman. President Bush's family is closely tied to the oil industry, and the Vice President, Dick Cheney, is closely tied to Haliburton, the oil drilling company in Alaska. The Alaskan Governor is on the side of the Republicans and thinks that the Vuntut Gwitchin could learn to change their lives to be like the Inupiats in Prudoe Bay. He also thinks that the Gwich'in people are only holding onto a romantic notion of their culture, fueled by some radical environmentalists. He has no idea what is at stake, and doesn't care about the Canadians.
Therefore, the Gwich'in and their supporters have had to try to fight the issue themselves, by going to Washington D.C. and to make as much of a case as possible.
In August 2002, the Caribou Commons Project from Yukon, held a trek across America, The Walk to Washington D.C. for the Arctic Refuge. Led by Ken Madsen, it was kicked off in Seattle with the support of the Canadian Consulate General in Seattle and several other leaders. I was lucky to be involved, even if in a small part, with the kickoff event. The walk ended last November in D.C.
Tammy Josie and Sandra Newman, Myself and Chief Joseph Linklater, Norma Kassi
Click on picture to view the photos from the kickoff
Gwich'in such as Sandra Newman -- a former Old Crow Counselor, Norma Kassi -- a Consultant in Whitehorse (from Old Crow), and Sarah James (from Arctic Village) -- Gwich'in Steering Committee, have been speaking out to a global audience to raise awareness, but it is a slow process. When people realize that its not an environmental issue to protect a few caribou, but a cultural issue for 10,000 Gwich'in, to save their entire way of life, they may just begin to understand--just a little bit.
In their own words . . .
Audio: Protection of the Caribou Caribou Calving Grounds Sandra Newman, Old Crow
Shockwave Movie: "Land of the Gwich'in" by Amy Sherts. Narrated by Norma Kassi, Old Crow / Whitehorse (Shockwave plugin required)
Video: CBC - "Locked Horns: The Fate of Old Crow", featuring Steven Frost, Old Crow
Article: "Save This Sacred Place" by Chief Joe Linklater, Old Crow, and Faith Gemmill, Arctic Village, AK, for The Washington Post; 1.17.01
Article: "Plight of the Caribou People" by DeNeen L. Brown, The Washington Post, featuring Chief Joe Linklater and Sandra Newman, Old Crow; 9.16.01
Article: "YUKON: 'The Caribou and Our People Are One" by DeNeen L. Brown, The Washington Post, featuring Chief Joe Linklater, Sandra Newman, Charlie Peter Charlie Sr., Old Crow ; 9.10.01
Article: "Human Rights vs. Oil--
A CorpWatch Interview with Sarah James"
Article: "Sarah James leads Alaska's 'Caribou People' in defense of their way of life" by Bert Gildart, The Christian Science Monitor (doesn't open in Netscape); 3.19.02
Article: "Arctic drilling could threaten caribou people, pastor says" by Joretta Purdue, United Methodist News Svc., featuring Rev. Trimble Gilbert, Arctic Village, AK; 5.22.01
On April 8, 2003, two Canadians joined the Porcupine Caribou Herd for 5 months on a journey from Old Crow to the sacred calving grounds in the Artic refuge. "Heuer said they wanted to come back with fresh images and tales of the caribou that would reach beyond statistics of oil barrels to be gained or the number of caribou potentially affected. More than anything, the couple wanted to present the public with the "face of the caribou." The 60 minute film about Being Caribou will be broadcast in the Fall of 2004. Read more