Group Warns of Oil Development on ANWR Anniversary

FAIRBANKS, Alaska - This week marked the 57th anniversary of the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge.
The Gwich'in steering committee hosted what should have been a celebration, but felt more like a grave warning for the Gwich'in people's way of life, cautioning Alaskans of the dangers of opening up the ANWR for oil and gas development.
Sarah Dubowski attended the event and files this report.
Steve Ginnis; Executive Director - Fairbanks Native Assiocation>>: "If there is anybody out there, including the governor and his staff and what not, think that the Gwich'in people are going to compromise on this thing, they are dead wrong. If they think we are going to settle for a certain amount of money or offer up something like coal management, they are dead wrong."
For thousands of generations the Porcupine caribou herd has migrated to the arctic coastal plains. This area provides the perfect birthing and calving ground because of its lush grasslands and few predators.
Princess Johnson; Organizer - Native Movement>>: "The porcupine caribou herd is a main food source for the Gwich'in Nation and we have relied on this caribou for thousands of years. Right now it's like we have a big for sale sign over the state of Alaska."
Late last week, the Senate passed a tax reform bill that included a provision that would open the 10-02 area of the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge for oil exploration and development. This area houses the birthing ground of the porcupine caribou that many indigenous people rely on for subsistence.
Alaska's congressional delegation touts the economic benefits of potential oil development, and they say effects on wildlife will be minimal.
Those at Tuesday's event weren't convinced.
Steve Ginnis; Executive Director - Fairbanks Native Assiocation>>: "Any disturbance on that area will have an impact on our way of life and that's the most concern to us."
Sarah James; Concerned Alaskan>>: "We have human rights as a caribou people. We have a right to hunt and fish. We have a right to subsist, we have a right to be who we are, as our way of life that has always been here."
Currently both the house and senate's version of the bill are being merged to iron out the differences. During the event the Gwich'in steering committee asked the public to contact legislators and tell them not to open up the coastal plain for development.
Steve Ginnis; Executive Director - Fairbanks Native Assiocation>>: "Like I said, we are at a really critical time right now because this thing is going to go to conference committee on the house and senate side to work out their differences. We feel that we have an opportunity to try to get that part of the legislation taken out of the bill."
Princess Johnson; Organizer - Native Movement>>: 'We are just asking people to call those members of the house, the representatives there and if you go to the Gwich'in steering committee facebook you will see a whole list of representatives and phone numbers and we are just working really hard to get the message out that we need to get this rider out of the tax bill."
Sarah Dubowski Reporting