A new report co-sponsored by the Episcopal Church says President George Bush’s plan to allow oil drilling in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge would endanger the human rights of the Gwich’in native people, who are overwhelmingly Episcopalians. The report said the drilling plan Congress is considering would threaten a herd of porcupine caribou that are considered sacred by the Gwich’in and are a main source of their food.
“International law requires the United States to protect the fundamental human rights of native peoples like the Gwich’in to culture and religion, their own means of subsistence and health,” the report said. Drilling opponents said the plan would disrupt the migration of the caribou, specifically the birthing grounds of the 120,000 in the herd. The Gwich’in considers the birthing grounds “the sacred place where all life begins.”
Arctic drilling is central to Bush’s energy plan, which supporters say could be worth $2.5 billion in drilling leases. Bush has said drilling could be done “with almost no impact on land or wildlife.” About 7,000 Gwich’in live in 15 villages in northeastern Alaska and Canada.
The dominant culture “seems incapable understanding the massive violation” that drilling would be for the native peoples,” said Mark MacDonald, bishop of the Diocese of Alaska. “We believe, even based on the most optimistic of scenarios, that this would be the equivalent of de facto ethnic cleansing. It would make their way of life unsustainable.” The report was produced by the Episcopal Church, the Gwich’in peoples and the International Human Rights Law Clinic at American University in Washington, D.C.