“The Trump administration’s plan to lease Alaska’s coastal plain for oil and gas drilling has hit a tiny snag: It could be a human rights violation. The United Nations is calling for an investigation into whether the policy violates the International Convention on the Elimination of all Forms of Racial Discrimination due to its impact on the Gwich’in people.
The coastal plain is a key piece of Gwich’in cultural identity. It’s so important to the Gwich’in that they refer to it as the Iizhik Gwats’an Gwandaii Goodlit, or “Sacred Place Where Life Began.” That importance comes from the fact that the Gwich’in—who call themselves the “Caribou people”—depend on the Porcupine caribou for sustenance and culture, and Porcupine caribou use the coastal plain as their calving grounds.
“It’s considered so deeply sacred that the Gwich’in refuse to set foot in that area, even in times of famine,” said Carla Fredericks, Director of First Peoples Worldwide and the American Indian Law Clinic at the University of Colorado, Boulder, who has worked with the Gwich’in Nation to contest development plans for a year and a half.”