Murkowski earns respect; ANWR needs protection

By Bernadette Demientieff - August 3, 2017
The Alaska National Wildlife Refuge's coastal plain in summer. (Loren Holmes / ADN)
The Alaska National Wildlife Refuge’s coastal plain in summer. (Loren Holmes / ADN)

Sen, Lisa Murkowski and I are on different sides when it comes to the coastal plain of the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge, but that doesn’t make us enemies. I’m as proud of our senator for her stand to protect the interest of the people’s health in this country as I am deeply disappointed and disturbed by President Trump’s and Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke’s response.

According to Alaska Dispatch News, after Murkowski’s vote against repealing the Affordable Care Act, which provides health coverage for tens of thousands of Alaskans, she received a call from Zinke. Zinke said the senator’s vote “put Alaska’s future with the administration in jeopardy.”

[Trump administration threatens retribution against Alaska over Murkowski health care votes]

One proposal Zinke and Trump have shown support for is drilling in the coastal plain of the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge. This place is vital for the survival of my people. The coastal plain, easily disturbed and destroyed by development, is critical to the Gwich’in Nation. We have always and will continue to subsist on the Porcupine Caribou Herd, whose calving grounds are in the coastal plain. Our elders say, what befalls the caribou befalls the Gwich’in.

I have written Murkowski directly to let her know that her vote on health care meant something because it was from the people. She didn’t vote the way her party did, and actually thought about human beings. I respect her for that.

But Trump and Zinke need to know that this isn’t a game. These are actual people’s lives we’re talking about.

[Opening ANWR to oil drilling is priority in Trump’s proposed budget]

Places like the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge are not bargaining chips. Our identities as indigenous people are at stake, and decision makers at the highest levels must take that into account. This administration’s response to Murkowski is a clear indication that they do not care about my land or my people.

The total lack of concern Trump and Zinke have shown during this incident must provide further incentive for Congress to take drilling in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge off the table. This administration cannot be trusted to act in the best interests of anyone but themselves — and it is clear that people, history, culture, even the future, do not factor in their decision making.

Bernadette Demientieff of Fort Yukon and Fairbanks is a mother and executive director of the Gwich’ in Steering Committee, an organization formed in 1988 by the elders and chiefs of the Gwich’in Nation to protect the calving grounds of the Porcupine Caribou Herd. 

The views expressed here are the writer’s and are not necessarily endorsed by Arctic Now, which welcomes a broad range of viewpoints. To submit a piece for consideration, email commentary (at)