THE Episcopal Church in the United States is backing plans to
designate 12.28 million acres of the Arctic National Wildlife
Refuge as wilderness - a move that would block any drilling for oil
or gas in the area.
President Obama has urged Congress to support a Bill to protect
the area, describing it as "one of the most beautiful, undisturbed
places in the world". The wilderness designation will include the
area's coastal plain, home to the Porcupine Caribou herd, on which
the indigenous Gwich'in people depend for survival.
The Republicans in Congress, however, argue that the oil-rich
region should be opened up for drilling. The Republican Senator for
Alaska, Dan Sullivan, said that the proposal was "outrageous", and
would "undermine Alaska's future and America's energy
The Episcopal Church praised President Obama for taking a
"critical step in protecting a sacred part of God's creation". The
majority of the 7000 Gwich'in people are Episcopalian.
The former executive director of the Gwich'in steering
committee, Princess Daazhraii Johnson, said: "We are dependent on
the Porcupine Caribou herd for our survival, and if the health of
that herd is threatened, it threatens our way of life. . . We need
a more compassionate economy, and we need to think about climate
change - the most affected people being indigenous, but all people
The Bishop of Alaska, the Rt Revd Mark Lattime, said: "The
Arctic National Wildlife Refuge is more than a wilderness preserve
established to protect again the loss of the delicate Arctic
ecosystems; it is also a sacred place, the spiritual and cultural
home of the Gwich'in people.
"I call upon people of faith, especially Episcopalians, to
listen to the voice of the Gwich'in people as they seek to protect
not only the environment and peace of their home, but the respect
and dignity of their way of life."
The indigenous Iñupiat Inuit people, however, who make their
living by fishing and hunting on the Alaskan coastal region, do not
all object to drilling, as they stand to gain economically from
leasing their land to oil companies. The majority of them are also
The US last month took the chair of the Arctic Council, a
multi-national group of Arctic nations. The Secretary of State,
John Kerry, promised to make the battle against climate change the
first priority of the two-year US stewardship of the Council, which
unites eight countries whose shores lie on the rim of the Arctic
Circle, and who lay claim to shares of its oil, gas, and shipping
"The Arctic is warming faster than any other region," Mr Kerry
said. "Temperatures are increasing at more than twice the rate of
the global average, which means the resilience of Arctic
communities and ecosystems, and the ability of future generations
to adapt and live and prosper in the Arctic is tragically, but
actually, in jeopardy."