THE GWICH’IN AND IÑUPIAT PEOPLES OF THE ARCTIC
The Gwich’in creation story tells that long ago, the Gwich’in and the caribou were one. As they separated into two beings, they became relatives and made an agreement. The land would sustain the caribou and the caribou would sustain the people. They would each keep a piece of the other’s heart within themselves. In that way their lives and well-being would be forever connected.
Today, the Gwich’n live in 15 villages in northeast Alaska and northwest Canada. They have relied on the Porcupine Caribou Herd for their clothing and food for generations. The herd is also the source of their spiritual connection to the land. As the caribou give birth to their calves on the coastal plain of the Arctic Refuge, the Gwich’in call it Iizhik Gwats'an Gwandaii Goodlit, “The Sacred Place Where Life Begins."
The Iñupiat people rely on the bounty of the sea instead of caribou. Their most important resource is the bowhead whale. When a whale is killed, the entire Iñupiat community gathers to harvest and divide the meat. Whale hunting is central to Iñupiat culture today, as it has been for countless generations.
Today’s Arctic peoples are important members of global society. The survival of Arctic cultures and communities remains tied to the wildlife and landscape of the Arctic Refuge. Drilling and climate change threaten the future of these vibrant communities and the environment they rely on.