Protect Our Resources: An Experience with the National Wildlife Refuge
My ?rst experience I had with touring to help protect the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge came to me when I was 14 years old. I had the opportunity to travel down to the United States with 13 other members of Old Crow to
meet with various people, reporters, schools, senators
and such on this issue and tell them how important it
is for the Gwitchin Nation to keep the Arctic National
Wildlife Refuge from oil development.
I feel that this
was a great learning experience for me, as being a shy
14-year-old coming out Old Crow in the Yukon, a small
isolated community of 250 people.
The “Refuge” is a very important piece of land
because of the fact that it is the birthing grounds of
the Porcupine Caribou Herd, which is the main food
source for the Gwitchin Nation, and also it is home to
thousands of animals, and birds from all over the world which come to this sacred place to have their young,
and also care for each other.
Ever since I was a young girl I have always heard my
elders and leaders speak of this place in such a high
manner that I always wished to come to the Refuge
and see for myself how unique this place is. When I
was 15, I had the opportunity to travel to the refuge
with a group of youth from the United States who were
travelling around to promote awareness of this issue.
They spent two days in Old Crow at an elders’ bush
camp and they had the wonderful experience of sitting
at the camp and listening to all the fascinating stories
and legends told by a very respected elder. They also
had the experience of tasting and enjoying the delicacy
of fresh caribou meat that was cooked on an open ? re. They very much understood how dependent the Gwitchin Nation are on their traditional land and how much the Gwitchin Nation practice their traditional way of life and pass it down to generation after generation.
I joined the group from Old Crow, on route to Fairbanks
Alaska where we would then drive to Prudoe Bay and
? y to the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge. We spent the
night in Fairbanks to gather food and camping gear
that we would need for our time in the refuge. We
started our drive to Prudoe Bay on a very rainy day
in Fairbanks. It was a very nice drive with beautiful
scenery to watch through the window we had to stop
for pictures. About halfway through our trip I noticed a
pipe line right alongside the highway, which seemed to
never end. I was so amazed and saddened about the
fact that the US wanted to do this to land anywhere.
We ? nally arrived at Prudoe Bay, and the ? rst thing I
noticed was the pipelines all over, and the health of
the caribou. The ? rst sight was a cow caribou with her
calf laying underneath the pipe, which probably had oil
? owing through it. I was so shocked at how unhealthy
they looked. I mean they had black spots on their hair
and a sadness behind their big round eyes. You can
see clearly how unhappy this animal felt, which brought
silent tears to my eyes.
On the second day of being in this place full of
machinery, and an oil company right in the middle,
we had the opportunity to go to the oil company and
meet with a representative to ask questions. All the
youth who were with me were asking questions as I sat
quietly in the front row just listening to the answers that
the lady was giving. The one question/answer that has
always stuck in my head was when Monique Musick
who was one of the delegates on the trips asked, “If
the oil company was in the process of pumping oil, and
there was a huge oil spill, with all this land being ruined
and all the caribou scared off by all the machinery, How
would the company deal with this type of situation.
Being that the Gwitchin Nations main food supply is
no longer there?” And the Lady responded, “Oh we
would just give them money to shut them up.” I was like
WHAT!!! And Of course I got offended, and then she
asked where we were from.
Everyone told her what state they came from and she
then got to me last. I was like Canada, and she asked
what part, I told her Old Crow and she almost fell on
her butt! I then told her “So how do you think money is
going to replace a Nation’s livelihood?” And of course
she had nothing to say because she knew that had nothing to say because she knew that
I was right, as this was the oil company, wanting to drill
in the Refuge.
When the day ? nally arrived for us to leave to the
Refuge, I was so excited with butter? ies in my stomach
and a million thoughts running through my head about
what to expect. I couldn’t stop pacing back and forth in
the small terminal as I awaited my turn to jump on the
plane which can only hold three passengers at a time,
to take me to this place, a place so untouched, and so
full of mystery. I ? nally arrived. As we were ? ying over
the Refuge, which seemed to go for miles and miles, I
gazed out my window and I could see all the sparkles
that ? ashed off the hills and all the glitter that bounced
off the water and creeks. I was in awe at how green
the ground was, how clean and clear this land was, so
untouched and peaceful.
As I got off of the plane I closed my eyes and took in
a deep breathe and said “Thank you, Creator”. It was
a moment that I will never forget. I stood there a few
minutes and looked in every direction, oh my, this place
is beautiful, and if there is such a thing as god’s country
then here it is! The ? rst day at this place we hiked for
miles starting at 6 am. I remember walking for six hours
and then we arrived at this cliff that we climbed and
had lunch. Man this place was beautiful. I stood on this
cliff and looked around and wondered how someone
can ever dream of destroying a place like this; Mother
Earth sure is a beauty. And then I turned to look in
one direction and there sat a bear and two cubs. Mom
lied back and soaked up the sun, as she watched her
babies play near a creek that glistened for miles and
miles. It was such an amazing thing to see. I have
never seen a bear with her cubs so calm before.
After lunch was done we decided to walk back to
where we had our camp set up, in a different direction
from the way we came. We walked and everyone
was in awe at the beauty of this place. To understand
how we felt about this beautiful place you would have
to go there and experience it for yourself, there are
absolutely no words that can explain it perfectly. For
our ? ve days in the Refuge we hiked around on our
own time, just to absorb everything around us.
On the day of leaving, I was the last to jump on
the plane, I remember saying, “Just one more day,
please, just one more day,” but of course I had to
leave. I stood by a hill, which had a creek ? owing by
and a small waterfall. I knelt down and I was digging
in my bag for something and I found some tobacco,
so I said a prayer, “Creator, I come to you on bended
knees, I ask for your help, your guidance and your strength, please bless the people of which I come
from, bless the animals of which we strive on, and
bless the beauty of each within. I ask you, Creator, to
help as we, the people of the Gwitchin Nation and our
supporters, ? ght to protect this beautiful vast land. I ask
you creator bless all our relations, our ancestors and
the unborn that they may have the opportunity to live
with their culture and tradition always.”
I sprinkled the tobacco into the creek that ?owed by and watched as it disappeared.
Having had the opportunity to travel to this unique place and breathe in the clean air, and just be free,
is an experience which I will always remember. A
memory which will remain in my heart always. I recall
many times as a child sitting on the ? oor looking up
and listening as an elder told stories; many times I
heard them talk about when my people were going
through a time of starvation, they would never ever go
to the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge for food, because
this place is so sacred, so untouched and a highly
respected place, that they would never think of going
here even if it meant that some one would die.
I now understand the importance of the Caribou in a
better perspective, and have great respect for Mother
Earth and all her creations. The President of the United
States is still, to my understanding, trying to open up
the Artic National Wildlife Refuge for oil development,
and we are asking for all the support we can get, as we
do have our leaders and members travel down to their
US to spread the awareness of this issue, so that those
who are interested in supporting us can help by writing
letters to their Senators or even telling their friends and
family about this important issue.
about this important issue.
I believe that if we, the Gwitchin Nation lose the caribou
herd we would loose everything we’ve got. Because
we depend on the caribou from the time we are in
our mother’s womb up until the day we die. It is in our
system before we are even born!! When our elders are
sick or even kids and adults are sick and cannot eat,
they would ask for caribou soup or just caribou meat.
The caribou is the strength of our people and we are
asking for all the support we can get on this issue.
I would like to take this opportunity to thank all the
leaders, our past leaders and our future leaders for all
your efforts and dedication on this matter.
May the creator bless each and every one of you out
there, and your families.
Remember, to stand up for what you believe in and
? ght for what is right! We are the future leaders of our
Nations and must ensure that we will always have
our traditional lifestyle and cultural values, as this is
where we as First Nations people get our strength,
courage and wisdom. And also we must help to make
sure that our children and their children grow with all
the teachings which have been passed down from
generation to generation. Keep the circle strong.
I thank each and every one of you for all that you do,
and remember only we can make the world a better
place to live.
Anne Blake is a 22-year-old member of the Vuntut
Gwitchin First Nation, also known as Old Crow Yukon.