People of faith must respond to parallel abuses of power at Arctic National Wildlife Refuge and Bears Ears National Monument.
The Arctic National Wildlife Refuge is a staple of God’s creation–a creation of which we humans are the stewards. Its vast and beautiful 19.6 million acres of wilderness are home to hundreds of species. This virtually untouched land is located in North East Alaska, and it is home to the people of the Gwich’in tribe, who have lived and thrived there for hundreds of years. Although a relatively small population, the history of the Gwich’in holds great importance for the land and State of Alaska. For hundreds of years, indigenous populations living in North America have been harshly persecuted, being massacred and forced to leave their cherished land and homes behind. Generations later, some of their sacred sites still remain intact and continue to be a place of solace for surviving tribes. These sites hold both historical and spiritual significance to the Native American tribes that hold claim to the land. Unfortunately, the abuse of Native land and people is continuing.
As people of faith, we have a moral obligation to protect the tribes, who continuously suffer because of the choices made by outsiders and who are acting as better stewards of creation than said outsiders.
Threats to the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge and Bears Ears National Monument are once again putting Native American land at risk for exploitation, which would harm both the Gwich’in people and the wildlife of the Gwich’in land. One of the incredible species that call the Arctic National Wildlife refuge home is the Porcupine Caribou. These Caribou are incredibly important to the Gwich’in sustainability, as they provide the isolated tribe with much needed food and clothing. The caribou also have great cultural significance in the lives of the Gwich’in’ people, and they are under attack: recently, a decision was made to allow drilling in the Coastal Plain of the Arctic Refuge. The coastal plain serves as calving ground for the Porcupine Caribou. If construction of oil rigs continues as planned, the results could be disastrous to the population of the caribou as well as the people who rely on them to survive. As people of faith, we have a moral obligation to protect the tribes, who continuously suffer because of the choices made by outsiders and who are acting as better stewards of creation than said outsiders. We cannot allow drilling in the Arctic Refuge to destroy God’s beautiful creation and harm the population of God’ animals and people.
Even more forcefully than we did at Standing Rock, we need to join tribes as they continue to come together to fight the exploitation of their sacred land.
This story of disrespect towards Natives and their land is similar to that of another recent case: Bears Ears National Monument. Bears Ears, located in Utah, holds significant historical and spiritual values, especially to the five tribes who hold claim to the land. President Trump’s recent decision to reduce the size of Bears Ears by 85% was not made with tribes in mind. Stripped of protections that come with being a National Monument, Bears Ears will now be at risk of drilling and mining.
These decisions continue the cycle of abusive treatment of indigenous peoples in North America. Now is not only a time for prayer, but a time for action. Native American people and their land deserve to be treated with dignity and respect. Even more forcefully than we did at Standing Rock, we need to join tribes as they continue to come together to fight the exploitation of their sacred land. Together, as people of faith and as stewards of Creation, we must restore and protect these sites.
Author Bio: Originally from McPherson, Kansas, Megan Wiens is currently serving at Creation Justice Ministries through the Brethren Volunteer Service. When Megan finishes her service in D.C she plans to attend Fort Hays University in Kansas to study social work.