Chief of Gwich’in First Nation in the Yukon hoping President-Elect Biden will reverse gas and oil exploration in Arctic Wildlife Refuge

7.6 million hectare wildlife reserve is in northeastern Alaska and is home to endangered polar bears and delicate Arctic ecosystems. Photo courtesy: Malkolm Boothroyd.


January can’t come fast enough for Chief Dana Tizya-Tramm of Vuntut Gwitchin First Nation in northern Yukon.

President-elect Joe Biden’s inauguration will take place on Jan. 20 and it’s hoped one of his first calls to action will be to reverse the Trump administration’s push to allow oil and gas exploration in the Arctic Wildlife Refuge.

“He spent eight years in the Obama administration. He understands the gravities of his position, and he is a seasoned politician. (He) understands the very large issues with changing climates across the globe,” Tizya-Tramm told APTN News.

The 7.6 million hectare wildlife reserve is in northeastern Alaska and is home to endangered polar bears and delicate Arctic ecosystems. It also serves as the sacred birthing grounds for Porcupine caribou, which are a major food source for the Gwich’in Nation in Alaska and the Yukon.

In August, U.S. President Donald Trump approved plans to auction about 607,000 hectares of the reserve to oil and gas development, which the Gwich’in and several environmentalists groups argue would cause massive environmental damage.

With Trump’s days in the Presidential office numbered, his administration has made several last minute attempts to push lease sales, such as issuing a call for nominations, which is a process used to identify areas companies are interested in drilling and a legal 30 day requirement before lease sales can begin.

The refuge serves as the sacred birthing grounds for Porcupine caribou, which are a major food source for the Gwich’in Nation in Alaska and the Yukon. Photo courtesy: Malkolm Boothroyd.

Although a growing list of major banks declaring they would not approve loans for oil and gas companies, the U.S. Government announced yesterday it will issue a Notice of Sale for Arctic Refuge leasing on Dec. 7, with lease sales to follow 30 days later on Jan. 6, 2021.

Meanwhile, Biden has stated he’s “totally opposed” to any drilling or exploration of the refuge and many advocacy groups are hopeful one of his first calls of action will be to reverse any lease sales.

Tizya-Tramm said he’s glad that the Trump administration is coming to an end.

“I think it’s unfortunate to have someone with no experience in politics, no experience in human rights, no experience in environment or lands, and no experience in law, because his actions show a complete disregard for all of them combined.”

“I struggle to find a lot of rhyme or reason to this administration in the first place…I think they continually show through their actions (through their) rude, lowbrow politics.”


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Despite the mounting backlash from various environmental groups and the Gwich’in Nation, Tizya-Tramm said it’s probable oil and gas companies will go forward with purchasing leases if they believe they can secure them, though any permanent hold of these leases will most likely be reversed when Biden takes office.

What is sure to be one of many reversals rooted in the turmoil of the Trump administration, Tizya-Tramm said Biden’s biggest challenge will be balancing an “antiquated system that’s addicted to oil.”

“The Trump administration has led the American government down a very dangerous route and the Gwich’in are the heavy boot of a top-heavy administration. It will be up to Biden to turn around Trump’s efforts.”

Sara Connors is originally from Nova Scotia and has a Journalism degree from the University of King’s College in Halifax. After graduation she worked in South Korea for two years as an English Language teacher and freelance journalist. After she returned home in 2019 she worked behind the scenes at CTV Atlantic in Halifax before joining APTN's Yukon bureau in July 2020.