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Chill the Drills! Protect America's Arctic

A Way Of Life

The Arctic is home to more than just rich scenery and stunning wildlife. For the indigenous Gwich'in and Inupiaq people, the region sustains a way of life.

The word "Gwich'in" means "people of the caribou," and it refers to approximately 7,000 people who have lived in the Arctic since long before political maps divided Alaska and Canada. Oral tradition suggests that the Gwich'in have occupied the area between the Yukon and Porcupine Rivers since time immemorial, or, according to conventional belief, for as long as 20,000 years.

The 15 Gwich'in villages are located along the migratory paths of the Porcupine Caribou Herd in order for their people to subsist off the caribou as they have done for thousands of years. Gwich'in culture, spirituality and tradition are all deeply tied to their relationship with the caribou.

Scientists have proven that existing North Slope oil development has already disturbed the migration patterns and habits of the caribou in some areas. If oil and gas exploration and development were to occur in the Arctic Refuge, where the Porcupine Caribou Herd makes its annual migration to calve each spring, the Gwich'in way of life would be radically disrupted.

The Inupiaq people, or "real people" of Alaska's northwest Arctic, rely on subsistence hunting of the land and sea for caribou, moose, whales, walrus, seals, and ducks, as well as salmon and berries, for their food. Their traditional whaling practice dates back thousands of years and forms the center of their diet and culture.

But today, global warming jeopardizes this way of life. Thinning sea ice makes it difficult to hunt and travel, and erosion places coastal villages in danger of flooding. The Inuit Circumpolar Conference, a group representing the Arctic's indigenous people, has made the case that climate change represents a threat to their human rights.

Native Children
Photo by Joel Sartore.

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