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'Tis the season to consider Native people's sacrifice

First, give thanks if you are a member of a tribe that still exists. And,
if you are able to sit down to a meal of your tribe's traditional foods
give another word of thanks. Since the time of contact more than 200 Native
American tribes are now extinct, numerous species of wildlife are extinct,
and vast acreage of tribal lands, including sacred places destroyed.

The people of the Gwich'in Nation have had an interdependent coexistence
with the wildlife of the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge since time
immemorial. The culture of the Gwich'in Nation is based upon the Porcupine
Caribou Herd. The herd migrates to the coastal plain of the Arctic Refuge
for calving and nursing. To the Gwich'in this place is known as "The Sacred
Place Where Life Begins." The people of the Gwich'in Nation are still able
to live a subsistence lifestyle, which is a very important component of
Gwich'in everyday life.

Today the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge is in extreme peril. The result
of the 2004 election brings the most serious threat to the Refuge since
1988. The Bush administration and its shortsighted allies in Congress have
made it clear that their energy policy will continue to give inflated
prominence to drilling in the Refuge. They push this despite the fact that
the U.S. Geological Survey and oil company executives have conceded that
the Refuge contains only a few months' worth of oil, and that it would not
be available for a decade. Also, despite the fact that drilling in the
Refuge has twice been rejected by bipartisan majorities in the Senate, and
that a majority of the American public does not support it, the Bush
administration continues to push this unpopular initiative. One fact has
not changed: Drilling in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge would ruin one
of America's last unspoiled wild places - and destroy the Gwich'in as they
exist today.

The threat of oil development in the Refuge comes immediately after the
release of the Arctic Climate Impact Assessment. More than 300 researchers
from eight countries and six indigenous tribes compiled the assessment. The
assessment foresees dire consequences for the world. The peoples of the
Arctic are in immediate jeopardy from global warming. The average Arctic
temperature has risen at almost twice the rate of the rest of the world.
This will result in extremely severe consequences for Arctic wildlife and
the people who depend on the wildlife for subsistence. The situation is
directly attributable to carbon dioxide emissions. It has been reported
that the Bush administration is strongly opposed to mandatory cuts in
carbon emissions. This administration has repeatedly resisted any language
endorsing the report's scientific findings or a call for mandatory curbs on
greenhouse gas emissions.

Alaska Native peoples across the Arctic are concerned about drilling in the
Arctic National Wildlife Refuge. Darlene Q. Kaleak, an Inupiaq from Barrow,
Alaska, stated in an Anchorage Daily News letter to the editor, on Nov. 8:
"Not only are the drillers killing our animals, they are killing nature.
That beauty of our land will be ruined forever; that's a major problem to
face for the future. Our elders are the ones who help us keep our culture
alive today and help us prepare our food; we grew up on those foods and we
rely on those animals."

The community of Nuiqsut, Alaska is adjacent to the Alpine oil field.
Rosemary Ahtuanguruak, a former physicians' assistant, is the mayor of
Nuiqsut. In a November 2004 article, by Daniel Glick on Salon.com, Glick
writes that: "After the oil pad went in at Alpine, she [Rosemary] began
noticing high rates of asthma among local residents, especially when gas
flares were noticeable. Rates of heart disease, diabetes, hypertension and
thyroid disorders rose - and so did truancy, vandalism, drug abuse and
other social problems associated with oil development. Fish became sick or
infected with parasites from pollution. Hunters talked about being driven
away from traditional hunting areas by security patrols for the oil
companies, and caribou began passing farther and farther from the town."

Sarah James, Gwich'in Steering Committee board member from Arctic Village,
Alaska states: "The battle is not over - we have the right to say 'no'
Indian nations are depending on our action. This is one of the last healthy
places. The elders took the position that it is the right thing to do, and
we have carried on that direction since 1988. Our stand to protect the
Porcupine Caribou calving and nursery grounds was built on a spiritual
foundation and continues to work. The position we took in 1988 is still
good - and we can't give up! This is the right thing to do. We have to
respect our elders' decision as taught by our elders. They survived when
starvation was occurring, and when change was put upon them they survived.
Now, we have to do the same thing for our children, just as our elders did
for us. It wasn't easy then, and it's not going to be easy now. But, when
we take a stand like this, it makes us a strong Indian nation. As Gwich'in,
we can't give up. Protecting our homeland is a subsistence issue and
everyone needs to realize that this is about our traditional food, and our
way of life." James just returned from the Peace and Dignity Run that took
her from Alaska to Panama. The run was a spiritual journey that highlighted
the need for awareness of sacredness and for balance in the environment.

Proponents of drilling have a much broader agenda and are now more brazen
than ever as they eye the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge. For example a
Sept. 25, 2003 issue of the Capitol Hill newsletter Roll Call, stated that:
"during a closed door session of the House GOP leadership, House Majority
Leader Tom DeLay said that the battle in Congress to open the Arctic
National Wildlife Refuge to oil exploration is a fight over whether energy
exploration will be allowed in similarly sensitive areas in the future ...
'It's about precedent,' DeLay told the assembled Republican leaders while
making several references to the 'symbolism of ANWR,' according to GOP
sources. Several GOP insiders were startled that DeLay contradicted the
Bush administration line on the issue. Officials have stressed repeatedly
that the battle over ANWR was not symbolic, but rather about the resources
that could be tapped there." Attitudes like this do not bode well for
Americans Indians and their way of life, nor for the natural resources that
belong to all Americans.

Ultimately, the battle over the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge says a lot
about the vision of the United States. Is this to be a country that wastes
and squanders its natural resources for short-term profit without regard to
Native peoples? Or, will it be a country that stewards those resources,
carefully conserving the most valuable natural and economic assets to
ensure we will have them in the future?

President Bush's first four years in office have proven disastrous for many
treasured places to American Indians. Protecting the Refuge must be a
priority for tribal people - Republicans and Democrats alike. A bipartisan
coalition needs to work together to protect the Arctic Refuge in the
upcoming Congress, backed by millions of Americans.

What happens in the coming year remains to be seen. Bad ideas never die,
and in this case, drilling boosters only have to win once. We will be just
as vigilant as we have in the past. We will work hard every step of the way
to remind Congress that the vast majority of Americans want the Arctic
National Wildlife Refuge to remain just the way it is: Protected, unspoiled
and free of oil development. But we need your help.

Take action! Write or call your Senator and Representative today. Let them
know that drilling in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge is a bad idea and
it is not the way to solve America's need for energy. To drill in the
Refuge will destroy forever a Native peoples' "right to a way of life." For
more information, contact the Gwich'in Steering Committee at (907)
458-8264, or visit their Web site: www.Alaska.net/~gwichin/.

Luci Beach is the executive director of the Gwich'in Steering Committee and
is Gwich'yaa Gwich'in and Vuntut Gwich'in.