MLA Annie Blake’s letter to the U.S. Government: No oil drilling in Arctic National Wildlife Refuge

Whitehorse, YT — My name is Annie Blake. I am the Member of the Legislative Assembly (MLA) for Vuntut Gwitchin and a citizen of the Vuntut Gwitchin First Nation.

The Porcupine Caribou always have been and always will be important to the Gwich’in people — the herd is the heart of our culture, our traditions and our ways of being.

When I go home to Old Crow, I can really see how our language, our culture, our traditions, our values, and our belief system is all interconnected to and centered around the Porcupine Caribou.

If you were to take the caribou away from Old Crow, you would be taking so much away from our young people. It’s amazing to see, despite the times we live in, how connected our young people are to the caribou. In our community, we have 12 year olds are going out on the land on their own to hunt; they get their harvest, they butcher it up, they bring it back to the community, and provide it to Elders, to single families, to people who don’t have a lot of resources. You can really see that practice alive in the community, and its what shapes our relationship with each other. Having a relationship with each other is so important because that’s how knowledge gets passed on. Without that element of our culture – without the caribou – our culture and our ways, and the strength of our people would quickly diminish.

It’s not fair to the Porcupine Caribou Herd or any of the other animals who live there to have leases available in the Arctic Refuge. We need to ensure the protection of this sacred space, where animals and birds from all over the world come to feed, to raise their young, to get strong to continue on with their migrations.

If oil and gas development is allowed to occur in the Arctic Refuge, negative impacts will be felt globally. This refuge is important not only to the Gwich’in people, it is also a sacred and critical place for many species across the globe, and that impacts all people.

When the United States deals with a group of Indigenous people, no matter what side of the border they are on, all people should be included. Everyone is impacted, no matter what age they are or where they live. It is important to recognize that the Gwich’in Nation is spread across Alaska, the Yukon and the Northwest Territories. Not including our community in this conversation – not consulting us – is a clear sign of negligence.

BLM is failing to ensure it has captured all voices from our nation.

When I think about the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge, I think about the caribou, and I think about the future. I think about how I was raised in my community, closely connected to the land.

I was raised on the caribou herd right from when I was in my mom’s stomach, and I think that is what keeps us connected to the people that have come before us. There are so many traditional teachings, spiritual teachings, and teachings that we learn about ourselves, that are connected to the caribou.

When we learn about the caribou, we don’t just learn to hunt the caribou for something to eat, we learn how to respect the animal. There’s a spiritual connection, and that connection we make between ourselves, and the caribou is part of how we give our respect to the animal, and its body. It’s the same respect you have to give to yourself, and all people around you.

We are taught to hold the caribou in the highest respect, because it’s deeply embedded within who we are individually, and it is a huge part of our nation.

If I could speak face to face with someone from BLM right now, I would ask them how they would react if I came into their place and went to their fridge and took out all their store-bought meat, and all the food they rely on.

How would they feel if I came to their community, into their homes and told them: “You can’t have this. You can’t have this and I’m going to come in and take your food, take your traditions, and take it all away from you without talking to you, whether you agree with it or disagree with it?”

As Indigenous people, the Vuntut Gwitchin have a right to access our culture through our traditional foods. If BLM really believes in serving people and ensuring the best for people today, and the people that are yet to come, children not yet born, that means protecting the natural resources we have, especially because we’re in a climate crisis, and seeing rapid changes in our environment.

We’re seeing enough hard changes happening in our environment with climate change, and the impacts it is already having on the migratory route of the caribou.

Why is it okay that they destroy my people’s way of life, for the sole purpose of making money?

It is our right and our duty to the future to ensure that the generations yet to come have the same rights and the same access to our culture and our ways as I have had or as my parents have had or as my grandparents have had.

At the end of the day, the decisions made about the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge and the Porcupine Caribou Herd impacts all parts of who we are as a people. Harming the Refuge or the herd means they are not only going to destroy that for us today, they will also impact future generations, and that’s not okay.

Mahsi’ Choo,

Annie Blake

MLA, Vuntut Gwitchin