“Welcome to Gwichyaa Zhee” a film to raise awareness about a crisis on Native lands in the Arctic Refuge airs at Patagonia Denver.
Late in the evening, I arrived in front of the brick building that houses the Patagonia Denver location. Concrete monoliths surrounded me. However this space was once untamed by modern buildings—these lands historically were home to the Cheyenne, Ute and Arapaho people. Inside the packed store, the atmosphere buzzed with people chatting, browsing store wares and anxiously anticipating the film “Welcome to Gwichyaa Zhee.”
Over 4,000 miles away, the Gwich’in native community is fighting for its identity. That is why tonight, Patagonia Denver is filled to support the efforts of Len Necefer, filmmaker Greg Balkin, the Wilderness Society and the Gwich’in Steering Committee to protect the 1002 Section or coastal plain of the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge (ANWR) from oil and gas development. The film highlights the sacred connection between the Gwich’in community and this land.
ANWR harbors the breeding grounds for the Porcupine Caribou, an animal that not only provides sustenance to the Gwich’in people but is also a sacred animal that the Gwich’in have sworn to protect in return for that livelihood. In 2017, the Trump Administration Opened the Arctic Refuge to drilling and now the last five percent of lands in the 1002 Section are under threat.
After the film, the executive director of the Gwich’in Steering Committee, Bernadette Demientieff, spoke about her experience growing up in Gwichyaa Zhee (Fort Yukon).
“Climate change doesn’t care if you are indigenous, black or white and climate change affects us all.” —Bernadette Demientieff
With a trembling voice, she described how uncomfortable it is to be surrounded by an ocean of concrete, away from her home of Gwichyaa Zhee. But she stated that she is here, facing what makes her uncomfortable, to be a voice for the Gwich’in people’s way of life.
“We are fighting for futures, fighting to protect all generations,” she said. “It’s all interconnected—our way of life, our identity, our health and the land is all interconnected. We need to stand together to fight for that protection. Climate change doesn’t care if you are indigenous, black or white and climate change affects us all.”
The crowd buzzed in agreement. “Our ancestors made a pact [with the Porcupine Caribou] to care for one another and now it is our turn to take care of them,” Demientieff told them.
Drawing record attendance since the film tour began on February 27th, the hope is to continue to raise awareness and stand together to protect the Arctic Refuge. If you missed the film and would like to learn more check out the film’s website or text “Arctic” to 40649.
Watch the trailer here: