Gwich'in Steering Committee
On January 8 the Gwich’in Steering Committee leaders met with the executive director of the Alaska Industrial Development and Export Authority, a public corporation of the State of Alaska, to urge him and his board to reconsider signing the leases Alaska Industrial Development and Export Authority bid on during the January 6 lease sale of sacred lands in the Arctic Refuge.
“We let them know that our way of life is not negotiable, and that we wanted to know how they intend to include Indigenous voices, and protect Indigenous ways of life and values, ” said Bernadette Demientieff, executive director of the Gwich’in Steering Committee.
Alan Weitzner, Alaska Industrial Development and Export Authority’s executive director, did not offer a supportive or clear answer, or any assurances that it has a plan that ensures inclusion and protection for the Porcupine Caribou Herd and the Gwich’in way of life, said Demientieff.
“It is not easy walking into these meetings with people who do not understand, recognize, or honor the sacredness of these lands to my people, or their importance to our way of life and survival, and who instead see these lands as merely dollar signs or tracts of real estate to exploit,” she said, “but we walk proudly into these meetings again and again to help those who lead these organizations and make these decisions see that this is about human rights and our ways of life. This is about future generations. This is about climate action. The coastal plain nourishes life and sustains the Porcupine caribou herd that, in turn, sustains our people. Sacred lands are not for sale. We will today and always protect these lands as our ancestors did, as our elders have taught us to do, alongside allies across the state, country and world who stand with us in fighting to keep drilling out of the Arctic Refuge.”
Alaska Industrial Development and Export Authority was one of the few bidders in the lease sale, which drew no interest from major oil and gas companies, and was the high bidder on nine tracts. The sale was a spectacular failure in terms of human rights, climate health, and revenue, and followed a disgraceful and unlawful process that disregarded Indigenous voices, science, and the law.
Alaska Industrial Development and Export Authority placed bids after a hasty meeting over the December holidays in which its board gave itself approval to spend state funds on leases, without legislative approval, despite the near-unanimous opposition of those who spoke during that meeting.
The Trump administration held the lease sale despite an ongoing lawsuit led by the Gwich’in Steering Committee, commitments from all US and Canadian major banks to not fund Arctic drilling, international concern about human rights violations, widespread public support for protecting the Arctic Refuge, and scientific consensus that Arctic drilling must stop to prevent continued climate suffering.