[dropcap]W[/dropcap]ashington, D.C. – Gwich’in leaders from Alaska and Canada responded with hope and gratitude today after the U.S. House Natural Resources Committee voted 22-14 to move the bipartisan Arctic Cultural and Coastal Plain Protection Act, H.R. 1146, out of committee. The bill would restore protections for the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge by repealing the reckless oil and gas rider tacked on to the Tax Act in 2017. The Tax Act opened the coastal plain of the Arctic Refuge to oil and gas leasing and development.
“This is an important day for the Gwich’in people,” said Bernadette Dementieff, executive director of the Gwich’in Steering Committee. “The survival of our people depends on the sacred place where life begins which is in the Arctic Refuge, a place that keeps the Porcupine caribou herd healthy. The future of the caribou and the future of the Gwich’in are one and the same. Today we saw House leaders stand up for our human rights and way of life by voting to protect our sacred land. We are thankful to them. We know we have more work to do before this bill passes through Congress and becomes law, but our people will continue to do everything in our power to fight for our human rights and protect the sacred coastal plain.”
H.R. 1146, legislation introduced by Rep. Jared Huffman (D-CA) and Rep. Brian Fitzpatrick (R-PA), would restore protections for the coastal plain. H.R. 1146 would repeal the drilling rider that was slipped into the 2017 Tax Cuts and Jobs Act without transparency or public debate. The coastal plain is a nursery and save haven for hundreds of birds and animals, including the Porcupine caribou herd that the Gwich’in nation have depended on for generations. Oil and gas activities would be inconsistent with protection of the human rights of the Gwich’in.
“It was very encouraging to witness so much support for Indigenous rights, Tribal sovereignty, and human rights of North Slope Iñupiat and Gwich’in people in the House of Representatives today,” said Rhonda Anderson, an Iñupiat leader whose family is from Kaktovik and who now lives in Massachusetts. “This was a significant victory in a long fight to protect the land, water, and wildlife for our future generations.”
This historic vote to protect the Arctic Refuge now clears the way for H.R. 1146 to move to the House floor.
“It was critical that we from the Vuntut Gwitch’in First Nation were here to advocate for and witness the passing of H.R. 1146,” said Cheryl Charley, deputy chief of the Vuntut Gwitch’in from Old Crow, Yukon Territory, Canada. “The Vuntut Gwitch’in will continue to be at the front lines of this issue seeking permanent protection of the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge.”