Sarah James, a Gwich’in from Alaska’s Arctic Village, will discuss the threat oil drilling in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge would pose to her culture today on campus.
James will speak on behalf of the Gwich’in Steering Committee, which she founded in 1988 to establish Gwich’in cultural survival as a major issue in the debate over oil development in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge.
She will discuss the role the New Mexico congressional delegation plays in deciding the fate of the refuge.
Each member of the delegation sits on a committee involved in federal energy policy.
Known as the “people of the caribou,” the Gwich’in have lived for more than 20,000 years in the Arctic, along the porcupine caribou route. The caribou, which travel every year to the Arctic refuge coastal plain to calve, are their primary source of food, clothing and shelter. James said drilling in the Arctic Refuge would disrupt the life-cycle of the caribou, leaving the Gwich’in without this sustenance.
“I want to teach people of all nations the importance of caring for our mother earth for future generations,” James said in a news release. “I want to pass the experience, the wisdom, and the knowledge of our elders for the survival of future generations.”
James’ visit is free and is being sponsored by the UNM chapter of the Public Interest Research Group.
“This talk is very important because Sarah James will be talking about an issue that has been largely ignored, and she gives a different perspective,” said Siobhan Asgharzadeh, director of UNM PIRG.
Asgharzadeh said drilling in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge has been a hot topic in the political arena, especially since the presidential elections.
“It has been a really big issue but the people it’s going to impact have been ignored,” she said. “We’ve been working on this topic for awhile at PIRG and have been contacting the political science, law, environmental law and biology students because it’s an important issue. We’ll have information for students who want to get involved.”
Community member Mary Coyle has heard James speak several times and said she was impressed by her ability to convey her message.
“I’m just very impressed by her caring for people, the caribou and the earth — that is her life,” she said. “I hope people listen to her and really try to hear what she has to say about this really important issue.”
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