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The Arctic National Wildlife Refuge and the Episcopal Church, USA
Frequently Asked Questions


What is the position of the Episcopal Church, USA regarding the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge?
Protecting the Arctic is more than an issue of stewardship of God’s creation and resources.  Our strong commitment to protecting this renowned wilderness is also a question of human justice and the fundamental rights of the Gwich’in people.  Our General Convention in 1991 and subsequent meetings of our House of Bishops have repeatedly called on the United States Congress to protect the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge and to encourage the development of clean, reliable and just energy policies that include our values.  Many Episcopalians—as well as other people of faith—have also added their voices to express their strong support for the Gwich’in with their members of Congress to protect this vast, beautiful and unspoiled part of creation.  To date, Episcopalians and many other advocates have successfully protected the Arctic Refuge, in its present state, from threat posed by development. 

What is the relationship between the Episcopal Church, USA and the Gwich’in Nation?
The Episcopal Church, USA has a deep and special relationship with the Gwich’in Nation of Northeast Alaska/Northwest Canada.  More than 150 years ago Anglican and subsequently Episcopal missionaries traveled to Fort Yukon, Alaska to establish a mission there.  Today more than 90 percent of the Gwich’in are Episcopalian.  They represent one of the few Native Anglican Nations in the world. 

Why does the Gwich’in Nation consider the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge to be sacred space?
The Gwich’in Nation has a unified longstanding position to seek permanent protection of “Iizhik Gwats’an Gwandaii Goodlit” translated—The Sacred Place Where Life Begins—known as the coastal plain of the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge.  The coastal plain is the primary birthplace and nursery for the Porcupine Caribou Herd, which the Gwich’in have relied upon to meet their essential physical, cultural, social, economic and spiritual needs for more than 10,000 years.  Even in time of famine, the Gwich’in won’t enter this sacred space to take the caribou they depend on for food, clothing, tools, medicines and shelter.  The Gwich’in Nation is composed of about 8,000 people who live in fifteen isolated communities, strategically located along the migratory paths of the caribou.  The Gwich’in call themselves “caribou people.”

In 1988, the threat of proposed oil development in the coastal plain of the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge led the elders to call upon the Chiefs to hold a traditional gathering Gwich’in Nintsyaa  to discuss the threat and make a decision for the future of the Gwich’in Nation.  The Gwich’in Nintsyaa, held in Arctic Village, was the first gathering of the Gwich’in Nation in over a century.  At the gathering it was agreed unanimously to oppose oil and gas development in the coastal plain of the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge.

Do other faith-groups support protection of the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge?
In February of 2002, as the United States Senate began consideration policy on energy and climate change, the leaders of more than 40 Jewish and Christian organizations and denominations and more than 1200 religious leaders across the United States issued a statement calling for “ energy conservation, fuel efficiency, and alternate energy development to protect God’s creation and God’s children.   That statement specifically stated opposition to drilling in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge. (For more information visit

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