Indigenous leader Bernadette Demientieff delivered 100,000 letters in protest of a company trying to inspect her ancestral lands for oil.
“I’m not an activist and I’m not an environmentalist,” she stated. “I’m trying to protect my children’s birthright, their future, and their lives. And as uncomfortable as this makes me feel I have to do it.”
Demientieff, is a leader in the Gwich’in community, an Indigenous group trying to protect the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge. The refuge is the biggest in the U.S., spans 19 million acres and has been protected from oil and gas drilling since 1980. But the Republican-controlled Congress approved a bill in 2017 that opens land in the Arctic Refuge for drilling companies to lease.
There is an estimated five to 16 billion barrels of oil on the arctic Refuge’s 1.5 million-acre coast. In June 2018, SAExploration applied for a permit to conduct 3D seismic exploration on the Arctic Refuge’s coast. The study would include 90,000-pound trucks and crew which could carve tracks into the tundra and disrupt natural water flow. The Gwich’in worry the development would disrupt migration of caribou, which makes of 80% of the group’s diet.
SAExploration is currently talking with federal agencies to get its proposed inspection approved. The federal shutdown has slowed down talks, but public meetings are still taking place.