Home > Protect Our Resources
Vol. 7 Issue 1

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.

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