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Beach: Springtime migration to the Sacred Place Where Life Begins

"The Gwich'in believe everything is related: every species has a responsibility to the earth in order for it to be complete. We don't single out only one bird's responsibility or one animal's responsibility. Around the globe, all indigenous people see things this way: All things are related. To harm one part of creation puts all of creation out of balance. ... We must save the birds and the caribou and all the creatures that live in the Arctic in order to keep the balance in the natural world.''

- Sarah James, Neet'sai Gwich'in, ''Arctic Wings: Birds of the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge''

Alaska Native tribal people have lived with the rhythms of the seasons for centuries. Springtime marks the time of year when many of Earth's creatures begin their migrations north. This is a time for rejuvenation and giving thanks. The people of the Gwich'in Nation have a deep and abiding connection with the Porcupine caribou herd that is the basis of Gwich'in culture and way of life.

The Arctic National Wildlife Refuge coastal plain is the springtime destination of the Porcupine caribou herd. The herd has the longest migration of any terrestrial mammal. Some individual caribou have been measured traveling more than 3,000 miles during their annual movements. In April, the pregnant caribou begin to form a long single-file line to mark the beginning of the journey to their calving and nursery grounds. They head north from the wintering grounds in Canada and in Alaska on the south side of the Arctic Refuge. The bulls will begin their migration about three weeks later. Then the entire herd will congregate in the calving and nursery grounds after approximately 40,000 - 50,000 caribou calves are born.

Additionally, 194 bird species from all 50 states and six continents fly to ANWR for nesting and staging. The returning geese flying overhead are a very joyful sight and sound. Amazingly, the Arctic tern has the longest migration from Antarctica, logging a 24,000-mile round trip and spending its entire life in daylight. The American golden plover, another endurance migrant, returns to ANWR from South America each spring to lay pastel speckled eggs on the tundra floor. These golden-flecked birds will nearly double their weight before the fall migration, during which they will travel up to 3,000 miles nonstop at speeds from 65 to more than 100 miles per hour.

Izhik Gwats'an Gwandaii Goodlit, the Sacred Place Where Life Begins, the Arctic Refuge is a unique place that has attracted wildlife to have their young for centuries.

The stories of these and other animals can be found in the book, ''Arctic Wings: Birds of the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge,'' published by The Mountainers Books in 2006. It was edited by Stephen Brown and includes essays, photographs by Subhankar Banerjee and others, and a foreword by Jimmy Carter.

Luci Beach is the executive director of the Gwich'in Steering Committee, which was formed in 1988 in response to increasing threats to open the coastal plain of the ANWR to leasing for oil.