Gwich’in Steering Committee
Once again calling upon U.S. insurance companies to commit to protection of the Coastal Plain of the Arctic Refuge from oil and gas development, the Gwich’in Steering Committee (GSC) delivered a letter of support signed by 240 allied organizations from nearly every state in the U.S.
The letter was delivered in-person on September 7 to the CEOs of Hartford-based insurance companies Travelers and The Hartford. Supported by allies including the Connecticut Citizens Action Group, Sierra Club CT, Insure Our Future, Green Corps and others, the deliveries were followed by a public event with concerned Hartford citizens.
The letter was subsequently delivered September 8 via email to all major U.S. insurance companies with potential resource development business in Alaska, including American Financial Group (Great American Insurance Company), Argo Group, Chubb, CNA, Liberty Mutual, Markel, RLI, The Hartford, Travelers, and WR Berkley.
Building upon the Gwich’in Steering Committee’s insurance engagements that have been ongoing since 2020 and its insurance industry scorecard, the letter urges Travelers, The Hartford and others to:
- Issue clear, public statements refusing to provide insurance and investments to any energy exploration, development, production, and transportation in the Arctic Refuge and across the Arctic Region;
- Adopt a formal policy to prohibit new insurance products or the extension of existing insurance contracts to cover the exploration, production, and transportation of oil and gas in the Arctic Refuge;
- Avoid financing oil and gas development in the Arctic Refuge by ruling out investments in companies involved in the Arctic Refuge development and those that do not have policies prohibiting their own involvement in the Arctic Refuge; and
- Enact a comprehensive policy that includes a commitment to operationalizing Indigenous peoples’ right to free, prior and informed consent.
To date, 14 international insurers and 29 global banks — including all major U.S. banks — have restricted underwriting, insuring or re-insuring oil and gas drilling in the Arctic Refuge. The letter calls upon all U.S. insurers to join other financial institutions that have taken a stand in protecting the Arctic Refuge. These institutions must recognize the risks and reputational consequences they will face should they support the violations of Indigenous People's human rights, harm wildlife, and exacerbate the devastating climate impacts that the Gwich’in and many Indigenous Peoples in the region are already facing.
“Silence and inaction from U.S. insurance companies cannot stand. Like their international competitors and banks across the world, policies must be put in place immediately to protect the Coastal Plain so that our people will continue to have a cultural and spiritual connection to our lands, waters, and animals for generations to come,” said Bernadette Demientieff, Executive Director of the Gwich’in Steering Committee. “The Gwich’in will not allow the destruction of Iizhik Gwats’an Gwandaii Goodlit — the Sacred Place Where Life Begins — which has sustained us since time immemorial.”
The Gwich’in people are the northernmost Native Nation living in 15 small villages across Alaska and Canada. Since time immemorial, the Gwich’in have been stewards of these lands, which include the Coastal Plain in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge. The 1.5 million-acre Coastal Plain is the calving ground of the Porcupine Caribou Herd. The Gwich’in people and other Indigenous communities depend on the herd to sustain their way of life, people, and culture and have for generations.
Among broad strategies of frontline and international advocacy, the Gwich’in have been seeking permanent protections for the Coastal Plain. After decades of bipartisan protection, the Trump administration opened the area to oil and gas leasing in 2017. Although leases were sold in 2021, all energy companies and legacy lease holders walked away from their leases in 2022. However, the Coastal Plain remains under threat until there are permanent protections reinstated. The Alaska state agency AIDEA still holds leases, and the 2017 Tax and Jobs Act mandates a second lease sale to be held by 2024.
To learn more about the advocacy work and campaigns targeting financial institutions that the Gwich’in Steering Committee and allies have engaged in, please visit ourarcticrefuge.org.