Caribou graze on the greening tundra of the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge (ANWR) in northeast Alaska in June, 2001. The Gwich’in Steering Committee, of which the Vuntut Gwitchin is a member, along with several environmental groups are suing the Trump administration in an attempt to halt oil and gas leasing in ANWR. (Michael Penn/Juneau Empire File)

UPDATED: Gwich’in-led lawsuit filed against drilling in Arctic National Wildlife Refuge

The U.S. administration has 60 days to respond to the lawsuit.

The Gwich’in Steering Committee along with several environmental groups are suing the Trump administration in an attempt to halt oil and gas leasing in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge (ANWR).

The lawsuit, which is being brought forward by 13 different groups including the Gwich’in Steering Committee, of which the Vuntut Gwitchin is a member, the Canadian Parks and Wilderness Society’s (CPAWS) Yukon chapter and 11 other U.S.-based environmental organizations, alleges the U.S. Bureau of Land Management has violated the Alaska National Interest Lands Conservation Act, the National Wildlife Refuge System Administration Act, the National Environmental Policy Act, the Wilderness Act, and the Endangered Species Act.

It comes after the U.S. government decided Aug. 17 to open up 1.56 million acres, or approximately 6,313 square kilometres, of the 78,000-square-kilometre refuge’s northern coastal plain for oil and gas development.

“The record of decision validates our experience of the erosion of integrity in assessments, process and respect. In light of our best efforts we are left no other option than that of filing legal action to hold those accountable as we the Gwich’in are held accountable by our future generations,” said Chief Dana Tizya-Tramm of the Vuntut Gwitchin First Nation in a statement.

“We are in the sixth extinction age. We know about climate change. I’m not against development or economies, but how does this fit into a larger picture? And really, if we do not have the sense to be aware of what we are decimating, […] if we are willing to trade this for a short lived oil and gas industry, then that means we are willing to trade our future generations well-being for affluence today. I don’t think any American would stand for this, and nor will the Gwich’in.

“Our rights, future and the land and animals cannot be bought yet others try to sell it.”

Among other violations, the lawsuit claims that the decision does not do enough to protect the threatened polar bear species. The allegations have not been tested in court.

Tizya-Tramm said the Vuntut Gwitchin have appealed to the Prime Minister’s Office for a public statement of support.

Vicki Clark, executive director of Trustees for Alaska, the law firm representing the group, said on Aug. 24 that the lawsuit was being filed quickly to challenge the decision before sales get underway.

She said a preliminary injunction that could temporarily stall the sale is being considered by the legal team but has not yet been filed.

The area is an important breeding ground for polar bears and is the calving grounds for the Porcupine caribou herd, a key source of food and cultural identity for the Gwich’in.

The herd has a long annual migration and generally spends more time in Canada than in the United States, according to Chris Rider, executive director of CPAWS Yukon.

“This is an issue that doesn’t just affect the United States, it has resounding implications for Canada,” Rider said. “The caribou don’t recognize the U.S.-Canada border, no one is checking their passports when they cross back and forth, and more of their lives are often spent in Canada than the United States. Anything that is done in Alaska that impacts the health of the calving grounds has an impact on the health of the people and land here in Canada.”

The U.S. administration has 60 days to respond to the lawsuit.

The Bureau of Land management’s approval of oil and gas leasing this month was the first time in 60 years that ANWR has been opened to development. The process to begin development in the coastal plain was started in December 2017 when the U.S. Congress passed the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act, opening up ANWR’s coastal plain to the possibility of oil and gas leases.

In a news release, the interior department said they believe exploration and drilling can be done in a way that “strikes a balance” and preserves the environment while bringing economic benefit to Alaska.

“Our elders directed us to do this work in a good way, and that is a very simple sentence but it’s not always easy, especially when you’re up against an administration that is so dishonest,” said Bernadette Demientieff, executive director of the Gwich’in Steering Committee.

“We will very much be negatively impacted, our animals will very much be negatively impacted. Our people will very much be negatively impacted, and our ways of life will be negatively impacted. Our identity as a people, as Indigenous people, is not up for sale.”

During a press conference on Aug. 24, Demientieff also referenced Gwich’in living on the Canadian side of the border, who she said “have been completely and utterly shut out” in talks with the government.

Contact Haley Ritchie at haley.ritchie@yukon-news.com

ANWR

Get local stories you won't find anywhere else right to your inbox.
Sign up here

Just Posted

Dawson the dog sits next to the Chariot Patrick Jackson has loaded and rigged up to walk the Dempster Highway from where it begins, off the North Klondike Highway, to the Arctic Circle. (Submitted)
Walking the Dempster

Patrick Jackson gets set for 405-kilometre journey

Liberal leader Sandy Silver speaks outside his campaign headquarters in Dawson City following early poll results on April 12. (Robin Sharp/Yukon News)
BREAKING: Minority government results will wait on tie vote in Vuntut Gwitchin

The Yukon Party and the Liberal Party currently have secured the same amount of seats

Yukonomist Keith Halliday
YUKONOMIST: The Neapolitan election

Do you remember those old bricks of Neapolitan ice cream from birthday… Continue reading

Chief Medical Officer of Health Dr. Brendan Hanley. (Crystal Schick/Yukon News)
Exposure notice issued for April 3 Air North flight

Yukon Chief Medical Officer of Health Dr. Brendan Hanley has issued another… Continue reading

Crystal Schick/Yukon News file
Runners in the Yukon Arctic Ultra marathon race down the Yukon River near the Marwell industrial area in Whitehorse on Feb. 3, 2019.
Cold-weather exercise hard on the lungs

Amy Kenny Special to the Yukon News It might make you feel… Continue reading

lwtters
Today’s Mailbox: Rent freezes and the youth vote

Dear Editor, I read the article regarding the recommendations by the Yukon… Continue reading

Point-in-Time homeless count planned this month

Volunteers will count those in shelters, short-term housing and without shelter in a 24-hour period.

The Yukon’s new ATIPP Act came into effect on April 1. Yukoners can submit ATIPP requests online or at the Legislative Assembly building. (Gabrielle Plonka/Yukon News file)
New ATIPP Act in effect as of April 1

The changes promise increased government transparency

A new conservancy in northern B.C. is adjacent to Mount Edziza Provincial Park. (Courtesy BC Parks)
Ice Mountain Lands near Telegraph Creek, B.C., granted conservancy protection

The conservancy is the first step in a multi-year Tahltan Stewardship Initiative

Yukon RCMP reported a child pornography-related arrest on April 1. (Phil McLachlan/Black Press file)
Whitehorse man arrested on child pornography charges

The 43-year-old was charged with possession of child pornography and making child pornography

Team Yukon athletes wave flags at the 2012 Arctic Winter Games opening ceremony in Whitehorse. The postponed 2022 event in Wood Buffalo, Alta., has been rescheduled for Jan. 29 to Feb. 4, 2023. (Justin Kennedy/Yukon News file)
New dates set for Arctic Winter Games

Wood Buffalo, Alta. will host event Jan. 29 to Feb. 4, 2023

Victoria Gold Corp. has contributed $1 million to the First Nation of Na-cho Nyak Dun after six months of production at the Eagle Gold Mine. (Submitted/Victoria Gold Corp.)
Victoria Gold contributes $1 million to First Nation of Na-cho Nyak Dun

Victoria Gold signed a Comprehensive Cooperation and Benefits Agreement in 2011

Most Read