Indigenous people fighting for their sacred lands find five million allies on TikTok
Gwich’in Steering Committee
The fight to preserve protections for the sacred grounds of the Gwich’in Nation in the coastal plain of the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge recently received an unexpected boost. Gen Z social media users have taken to TikTok by the millions to organize civic action around the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service public comment period on proposed seismic work in the calving grounds of the Porcupine caribou herd.
More than 5 million letters opposing oil and gas exploration in the Arctic Refuge will be delivered to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service before the close of the public comment period on January 6, 2021.
The Gwich’in Steering Committee is at the heart of the legal battle to prevent drilling in the coastal plain of the Arctic Refuge, an ecologically sensitive landscape known to the Gwich’in as “Iizhik Gwats’an Gwandaii Goodlit” (The Sacred Place Where Life Begins).
The groundswell of support from young people on social media platforms is shining a spotlight on not only the risk to wildlife, but on how the rights of the Indigenous Peoples are being violated and how their concerns are being dismissed. Thousands of teens have participated by creating their own TikTok stories and directly calling on social media influencers to amplify the issue. Viral TikTok creators like Ben de Almeida, Addison Rae, and Charli D’Amelio have shared personal Arctic Refuge stories reaching millions of teens.
It is the breadth of participation that has made this organic campaign so ubiquitous among young people. From front line accounts by indigenous youth to humorous dating advice to polar bear craft projects, the passion and creativity of young voices in calling for protection of the Arctic Refuge is one reason to hold out hope for our collective future.
Gwich’in Youth Council Vice President; Gwichyaa Zhee/Vuntut Gwich'in Isaiah Horace “Our ways of life are interconnected to the land, the water and the animals. We are blessed because we protected and respected it for thousands of years. Now we have greedy corporations and this administration coming to disrupt what Creator blessed us with. All in the name of money. We are rich in our culture, we are rich in our ways of life. We will not be dismissed or ignored. The Gwich’in will fight this illegal and rushed process, we don’t give up. It's not in our blood. We thank the millions of fellow youth who stand with us. Mahsi Choo (Thank You)."
Gwich’in Youth Council President; Draanjik/Gwichyaa Zhee Gwich’in Kaila Druck “Having to worry about our future is no fun. Watching our state melt three times the rate as the rest of the world as our elected leadership pushes for more oil and gas development is very concerning. We are witnessing something that even our elders haven’t seen. This is why we must protect our animals, our land, and our water; that is our survival. Mahsi Choo (Thank You very much) to all 5.5 million TikTok supporters who stand with the Gwich’in Nation to protect the sacred Arctic Refuge.”
“The youth are the future and we should have a say in what that reality will be,” says Nanieezh Peter, a Gwich’in and Diné youth. “As an Indigenous young woman I am a political statement from the day I am born. I must protect the lands, water, and even my own body constantly. It’s tiring, but it’s important to those who have deep connections to the land of the Arctic. If that connection is broken it will have a much larger impact on the rest of the world. We are all connected.”
Gwich’in Steering Committee Advisor Elder Kathy Tritt says ,“We are thankful for the people who are standing with us to protect the Porcupine caribou herd, all 5 million of you. May Creator, the Son and the Great Spirit be with you all, Thank you.”
The Gwich’in Steering Committee Executive Director Bernadette Demientieff stated, “The Trump administration continuously disrespects the Indigenous people in this Country especially in their push to sell off our lands to fossil fuel companies, but we will not allow them to get away with this rushed, sloppy, corrupt and embarrassing process. Especially when OUR children, OUR youth are speaking up for their future, a problem they didn’t create. I am proud to see all the youth standing up together because they understand their future is at stake. Where are the parents? We must stand with our children! The Gwich’in Steering Committee has led this fight for over 40 years. Giving up is not an option for us. This is our way of life. They definitely have a fight ahead of them. We will not stand quietly by when we have a corrupt government coming to destroy our sacred lands. This is one of the last untouched ecosystems in the world. Stand with us and protect the Arctic Refuge, so that our future generations have a chance at survival”.
In 1988 the Gwich’in Chiefs and Elders gathered for the first time in over 150 years. They gathered in response regarding proposals to open the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge to oil and gas development. The Gwich’in have had a spiritual and cultural connection to the porcupine caribou herd since time immemorial. We hold this area sacred and it has been for thousands of years.
The Gwich’in Steering Committee is the unified voice of the Gwich'in Nation of Northeast Alaska and Northwest Canada. We have presented testimony in front of the US Congress, the United Nations Special Rapporteur on Indigenous Peoples, and public hearings to elevate the Human Rights issues implicit in energy development of the Arctic Refuge. Our unified voice is expressed in a formal resolution, Gwich’in Niintsyaa. A resolution that we reaffirm every two years. If you would like more information about this topic please contact the Gwich’in Steering Committee at (907) 458-8264, or visit our website at ourarcticrefuge.