To the Gwitch’in people, the Alaska National Wildlife Refuge (ANWR) is sacred territory where life begins.
To U.S. President Donald Trump, the refuge represents money, and a growing economy.
The tax and jobs bill is touted to shrink taxes for America’s middle class, and companies and drive millions back on the the economy.
Tucked into the bill is a section to open up the refuge on Alaska’s north slope to oil drilling.
“It’s a sad day for sure,” said Lorraine Netro from the Gwitch’in steering committee – a pan northern board that was formed in 1988 to combat drilling proposals.
“And we’re never going to give up our right for fighting for our human rights to live our traditional and cultural way of life as Gwitch’in people.”
Netro said the area must be protected because it’s a calving ground for the Porcupine caribou herd – a herd that has shaped the Gwitch’in Nation for generations.
“The Gwitch’in are tied to the caribou and are fates are intertwined,” says Jeffery peter
Peter was in Washington, D.C. earlier this month to lobby against the bill.
He told APTN News that he’ll be a father soon and will fight for the right to pass on his culture.
“I want the right to pass that knowledge, those traditions those hunting techniques down to my children and grandchildren,” he said. “And I don’t’ want all that to stop now and lose thousands of years of knowledge and respect.”
Netro said the Gwitch’in have a solid foundation of support in Washington.
“We call them our Arctic warriors and they have stood with us for the last 40 years and their commitment is unbelievable,” she said.
“And that is where I place my hope and faith and our people will continue to travel to Washington, DC this is not going to end here.”
It is estimated that there are 11.8 billion barrels of oil in the refuge but drilling may still be years away.
There will be environmental reviews, and likely lawsuits ahead.