A Pacific loon sits lakeside in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge. Gwich’in across the Canadian North are renewing their calls for Canadian banks to follow in their American counterparts’ footsteps and commit to not financing exploration or development projects in ANWR. (Malkolm Boothroyd/Submitted)

Gwich’in renew calls for Canadian banks to not finance drilling in ANWR

“They do have a clear understanding of the impacts and the risks so it’s now up to them to take action”

Gwich’in across the Canadian North are renewing their calls for Canadian banks to follow in their American counterparts’ footsteps and commit to not financing exploration or development projects in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge (ANWR).

Vuntut Gwitchin First Nation (VGFN) and the Gwich’in Tribal Council, based in the Northwest Territories, issued a joint press release April 28 stating they “remain hopeful that Canadian banks will step up and acknowledge that the sacred land of the Gwich’in Nation is no place for drilling… Such an action would be greatly celebrated by the Gwich’in Nation and millions of supporters across Canada and the United States.”

The statement came in the wake of another major American bank, Morgan Stanley, ruling out backing oil and gas exploration and development projects in the Arctic, including in ANWR.

Citi, Goldman Sachs, JPMorgan Chase and Wells Fargo have also made similar commitments.

Gwich’in on both sides of the border have long been calling for a permanent moratorium on drilling in ANWR, a vast expanse of largely untouched Alaskan wilderness that is home to the calving grounds of the Porcupine caribou herd — a herd Gwich’in have long relied on for survival.

The movement gained a new urgency last September when U.S. President Donald Trump announced plans to open up ANWR to drilling.

In an interview April 30, VGFN Councillor Cheryl Charlie said the ball is now in the court of the Canadian banks.

She noted that VGFN, along with the Gwich’in Tribal Council and the Yukon chapter of the Canadian Parks and Wilderness Society, visited Toronto in December 2019 to meet with representatives from CIBC, TD, Scotiabank and RBC, and later met with BMO representatives via teleconference. They’ve since followed up with the banks by email and phone call.

“They do have a clear understanding of the impacts and the risks so it’s now up to them to take action,” she said.

“They have been interested in our message (but) we haven’t had any indications of any decision, so even though that they were willing to listen to us and what we believe to be of importance with the Arctic refuge and keeping it permanently protected, it’s hard to say like where they stand.”

Charlie said she believed two factors might be holding the Canadian banks back from making a decision — their internal processes on reviewing and updating policies, and the impacts of COVID-19.

No matter what, though, she said VGFN “would like to see action from them quickly and we will continuing to focus on keeping in touch with them within our work.”

“If they were to update their policies, it would reduce the pool of finances available to companies who are interested in pursuing oil and gas development in the Arctic refuge, which would make it harder for them to succeed, if not impossible,” Charlie explained.

“And it will also help add momentum to the movement … Having more financial institutions that update their policies is a signal to other financial institutions and oil and gas companies that this is the way forward.”

She added that the push to protect ANWR is “now, more than ever, quite critical.”

“This is where we really have to stand in solitary and keep our message alive in trying to keep the Arctic refuge permanently protected,” Charlie said. “… I’d say it gives us that much more energy to pursue our work.”

The News reached out to the Canadian banks that have met with Gwich’in representatives about ANWR.

CIBC spokesperson Nima Ranawana confirmed the bank had met with Gwich’in representatives but ignored questions about whether it was considering adopting a policy regarding financing exploration or development projects in ANWR.

TD spokesperson Heather Reinsborough wrote that TD “has no direct commitments to finance projects in this area, and continue to monitor developments related to the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge.” She also did not respond to questions about whether TD was considering adopting an ANWR policy.

BMO, Scotiabank and RBC did not respond to requests for comment.

Contact Jackie Hong at jackie.hong@yukon-news.com

ANWRVuntut Gwitchin First Nation

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