The Progressive


A project of Common Dreams

For Immediate Release

Senators Warren, Merkley, and Udall Join the Gwich'in Indigenous Pray-In Against GOP Tax Bill

Gwich’in Led Indigenous Nations “Pray In” on the Arctic Anniversary Urging Congress to Protect the Sacred Arctic Refuge.


Leaders from the Gwich'in Nation and Inupiaq Tribe traveled from northern Alaska and the Yukon Territory in Canada today to lead a pray in against the tax bill and urge Congress to drop drilling in the Arctic from the bill. Senator Elizabeth Warren, Senator Jeff Merkley, Senator Mark Udall, and Representative Alan Lowenthal all came out to support and joined the call to stop Arctic drilling.

The Gwich'in Nation of Alaska and Canada have always and will continue to subsist on the Porcupine Caribou herd, whose calving grounds are in the coastal plain of the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge. The place is vital for the survival of the Gwich'in and Inupiaq people. Today marked the 57th anniversary of the Refuge.

"We are outside the Capitol today to assert our Tribal Sovereignty and Indigenous identities, and affirm our commitment to protecting sacred places and demand Congress do the same," said Bernadette Demientieff, Executive Director of the Gwich'in Steering Committee.

The group held signs in Gwich'in Nation colors reading "Protect the Arctic," "Indigenous Rights are Human Rights," and "Don't Use the Tax Bill to Attack Indigenous Rights." Representatives from the Gwich'in Nation and Inupiaq leaders prayed, danced, and drummed throughout the pray in.

"I'm a hunter living a subsistence life in the Yukon, a life that was passed on to me by my parents and generations of family," said Jeffrey Peter, Vuntut Gwich'in from the Yukon Territory. "I'm going to be a father soon, and I deserve the right to pass this life on to my son. Congress has no right to take that away from us -- we cannot allow drilling in the Arctic Refuge."

Sebi Medina-Tayac of the Piscataway Nation, the Nation native to the Washington, DC area, welcomed the group to DC and spoke of the interconnected struggle for Indigenous rights.
"We must resist the fossil fuel industry's continued attacks on Indigenous rights and sovereignty," said Dallas Goldtooth of the Indigenous Environmental Network, who MC'd the rally. "The Tax Bill being debated is bad across the board, but it especially highlights the ugly collusion between fossil fuel interests and the GOP. We must draw the line on the protection of our Indigenous homelands, we must defend the sacred."

"The Inupiaq people do not want this drilling, we do not want to open the Arctic Refuge to drilling," said Adrienne Titus, an Inupiaq leader who works with the University of Alaska Native Studies and Rural Development program. "I traveled here from Alaska because we need to stop Congress from allowing this to pass."

December 6th is the 57th anniversary of the creation of the Arctic Refuge.

Established in 1990 within the United States, IEN was formed by grassroots Indigenous peoples and individuals to address environmental and economic justice issues (EJ). IEN's activities include building the capacity of Indigenous communities and tribal governments to develop mechanisms to protect our sacred sites, land, water, air, natural resources, health of both our people and all living things, and to build economically sustainable communities.