Gwich’in Women Fight to Preserve the Arctic Refuge From Drilling

Bernadette Demientieff is a member of the Gwich’in community, and her ancestorsáhave lived ináAlaskaáfor thousands of years. Over the last 30 years, her peopleáhave been fighting to protect a portion of their home in the Arctic NationaláWildlife Refuge (ANWR), where oil companies have been trying to drill.

Demientieff is one of the subjects in a new 15-minute documentary called “The Refuge,” commissioned by the apparel companyáPatagonia. “Some people would call it activism, but we’re just trying to protect our way of life,” says Demientieff in the film.á”We are raised to protect the area. To us, it’s not work, it’s our livelihood, it’s who we are.”

The Gwich’in depend on the caribou that migrate through the ANWR.áAs Demientieff states in the film:á”Our fate is tied to the health and well being of the Porcupine caribou herd. We’ve had this spiritual relationship for thousands of years.”

Partáof the ANWRáis calving grounds for Porcupine caribou herd. Every year, up to 40,000 calves are born there and the Gwich’in people feel a spiritual connection to them, and a duty to protect them.

The History of theáArctic NationaláWildlife Refuge

ANWR covers more than 19 million acres and is one of the last intact ecosystems in the world. It is home to Alaska Natives, including the Gwich’in and Inupiat, along withá37 species of land mammals, eight marine mammals, 42 fish species and more than 200 migratory bird species.

The ANWR area was originally protected byáPresident Eisenhower in 1960. In 1980, Congress expanded the areas designated as “wilderness,” but left a subsectioná– known as the “1002 area” — without added protection. Ever since, the area has been under pressure from oil companies who want to open the area up for drilling.

“The Refuge,” created by filmmakers Alex JablonskiáandáKahlil Hudson, opens with clips of men in suits in Washington D.C. proclaiming that it is their duty to extract oil from the “1002″ section of ANWR.

Angry-Men

Rep. Don Young on drilling in ANWR á| áImage credit: screenshot fromáThe Refuge

“I know what I’m talking about,” says Rep. Don Young of the House Natural Resources Committee in a clip shown in the film. “The Arctic Plain is really nothing. …It is not the heart. The reality is this area should be drilled.”á

The scene then switches to beautiful shots of Alaska, and viewers hear the voices of two Gwich’ináwomen who explain their decades-long fight. “What we’re up against is a mentality that puts money above everything else,” says Demientieff.

beautiful-alaska

Portion of the Arctic NationaláWildlife Refugeá| á Photo Credit: Screenshot fromáThe Refuge

We All Suffer When We Are Disconnected From Nature

Demientieff reflects on her own struggles before workingáto protect the ANWR. “The Western world really took a huge impact on a lot of us.”áSheáfell into despair at what people were trying to do to her land and culture, and entered a very dark period after her brother committed suicide in 2006. She tells the filmmakers that she drank every day and didn’t take good care of her children.

But she saved herself by working to preserve the caribou and the refuge. “When times get hard for me, I remember that I have a whole nation of people that are depending on me, so giving up is not an option,” she says in the film. “I want to be able to tell my kids that I’ve done everything I could for them.”á

Creating Documentary Magic

FilmmakersáJablonski and Hudsonáexplained to Care2 how they approached the documentary and how they connected with theáGwich’in women in the film:á“When you have a genuine interest in the people and their struggles, you can build a closer relationship with them. They know that you want to see them succeed, and this allows them to be honest,” explained Hudson. “Of course,” he added, “these are two exceptional women to begin with.”

Jablonski elucidated that, “What we’re trying to do is to create a space where people can let themselves shine through. Above all, we want to create documentary magic.”

As viewers witness the struggles of the Gwich’in people told through first-hand stories, they are drawn into understanding the deeply spiritual beliefs that sustain these people, and how devastating, even fatal, it would be if they lost their way of life.áYou can watch the full documentary below.á

Take Action!

Care2, Patagonia and the Alaska Wilderness League are standing in solidarity with the Gwich’in people to prevent the Arctic Refuge from being exploited.á

If you agree that we must protect the Coastal Plain of the Arctic Refuge from oil drilling, please join over 70,000 activists andásign the petition asking Congress to designate the Coastal Plain of the Refuge as Wilderness.

Photo Credit: Screenshot from "The Refuge"

139 comments

Caitlin B
Caitlin B15 days ago

Good article. Thanks.

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Kay M
Kay M18 days ago

Good evening and thank you for this article-the great pictures -petition- and the video -which i watched -POSITIVELY- WE ALL NEED TO FIGHT TO SAVE OUR NATURAL RESOURCES AND LAND - POSITIVELY STOP ALL DRILLING FOR OIL AND NATURAL GAS- GO CLEAN -GO GREEN-GO SOLAR AND WIND- NEVER GIVE UP AND NEVER STOP FIGHTING FOR WHAT WE KNOW IS RIGHT AND JUST- sincerely KAY M

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Aaron F
Aaron F19 days ago

Petition closed...! Reached the goal...!

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One Heart i
One Heart inc20 days ago

Thanks!!!

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Ellie M
Ellie M21 days ago

ty

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Bill E
Bill Eagle22 days ago

Good for these ladies. I also signed the petition.

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Peggy B
Peggy B23 days ago

Noted

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Lisa M
Lisa M23 days ago

Thanks.

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Lisa M
Lisa M23 days ago

Thanks.

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Kelsey S
Kelsey S23 days ago

Thanks

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