Arctic Voices

Arctic Gardens Ebook - Forward

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And that is how it turned out; Canada decided that no pipeline was to cross the calving grounds, and that no pipeline was to be built along the Mackenzie Valley until land claims were settled.

When the Inuvialuit and the Gwich’in settled their land claims, they provided in their land claims agreements for the establishment of two wilderness parks: Ivvavik, to protect the Yukon coastal plain, and Vuntut, to protect the lands extending south towards the Porcupine River, for the protection of the caribou herd and the snow geese. Together with the Old Crow Special Management area, five million acres were brought under federal protection.

I also urged the United States to protect the contiguous area of Alaska, where the calv- ing grounds of the Porcupine Herd are more extensive than in Canada. I went to Washing- ton, D.C., in 1978 to testify before Senate and House committees to argue for international cooperation in protecting the herd. Those were the days of the Carter administration, and I received a sympathetic hearing.

The United States established the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge in 1980. In 1984, Canada signed a treaty with the United States to protect the caribou calving grounds on both sides of the international boundary. But critical habitat along the coastal plain of Alaska, encompassing much of the calving grounds, was still subject to the possibility of oil and gas exploration. This question is not yet resolved. It is one which has engaged the Gwich’in on both sides of the international boundary.

In Canada my work led to the settlement of land claims. In Alaska of course they had been resolved in 1971 by the Alaska Native Claims Settlement Act. In 1983 I was asked by the Inuit Circumpolar Conference to go to Alaska to conduct the Alaska Native Review Commission, which was to examine the 1971 settlement. Having held hearings in the late 1970’s in all the Arctic Gardens villages on the Canadian side of the border, I then held hearings in the 1980’s in all the Arctic Gardens villages on the Alaska side of the border. What Alaska Natives had to say closely resembled what I had heard from the Inuvialuit and the Gwich’in in Canada’s Western Arctic a decade earlier. They affirmed the importance to them of a way of life based on the land, a culture centuries-old.

Since then the settlement of land claims has made the Dene and the Inuvialuit the owners of hundreds of thousands of hectares of land, including surface and subsurface re- sources, and has provided guarantees of their right to hunt, fish and trap. The land claims settlements have also provided for setting aside protected areas for caribou, migratory birds, and other species. Moreover, the Dene and the Inuvialuit are important players in working out the choices that face the region. They will have an influential – if not decisive – voice in determining whether a Mackenzie Valley gas pipeline is to be built today. They are no longer spectators in their own drama.

In 1985, after I had completed my report on the Alaska Native Claims Settlement Act, I was testifying in support of my recommendations for changes to the Act before the Interior Committee of the United States House of Representatives. When I talked about the importance of hunting and fishing to Alaska Natives, about what Alaska Natives call the subsistence economy or subsistence, Congressman John Sieberling said to me, “That’s all very well, but how are we to bring Native people into the modern world?”

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