In the Gwich’in creation story, Gwich’in and caribou began as one. After separating into two beings, they remained relatives and made an agreement to protect and provide for each other.



The Gwich’in people call the coastal plain of the Arctic Refuge “The Sacred Place Where Life Begins.”



The Arctic Refuge is the traditional territory of the Athabascan Gwich’in and Iñupiat Peoples.



The Gwich’in rely on the Porcupine Caribou Herd to make clothes, provide food, and maintain their spiritual connection to the land.


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. 

“We ask for courage, love, and commitment for all our leaders, to enable them to find it in their hearts to protect the coastal plain of the Arctic Refuge.”


Lorraine Netro was born and raised in Old Crow, in Canada’s Yukon Territory. Her mother introduced her to the traditional values of the Vuntut Gwich’in at a young age. She has built her work as an advocate for Arctic peoples on the strong foundation of Gwich’in culture, history, and traditions. Lorraine has served on the Porcupine Caribou Management Board and the Gwich’in Council International. She has also made the three-day journey to Washington D.C. many times over the past twenty years. There, she has met with members of Congress to share her story and advocate for the protection of the Arctic Refuge. Lorraine is dedicated to making sure that her grandchildren, the entire Gwich’in Nation, and those not yet born will always have access to the same culture and traditions that shaped her life.

A Prayer to Begin our Work

I am Lorraine Netro. I am from the Vuntut Gwich’in First Nation, Old Crow, Yukon, Canada. My late mother’s name is Mary Netro. I respectfully acknowledge the First People whose land we meet on.

Creator, God, we give you thanks for the many blessings you have provided. We pray for those who are facing challenges in their lives and for those who live without clean water, nourishing food, and safe shelter.

Today, we ask for your love, peace, and gratefulness in our hearts, minds, and spirits as we do the work that is placed in our paths. We are grateful for those who walk with us to protect our sacred lands.

We give you thanks for providing an abundance of Food, Water, and Animals, and a Clean Environment, and we pray that we may continue to live in harmony with all that is alive.

We ask for courage, love, and commitment for all our leaders, to enable them to find it in their hearts to protect the coastal plain of the Arctic Refuge—Iishik Gwats’an Gwandaii Goodlit, the Sacred Place Where Life Begins.


Robert Thompson is an Iñupiat wildlife guide. He has lived most of his life in Kaktovik, on Barter Island, with his family. He has a great love and respect for the traditional hunting lands and whaling waters of the Iñupiat people. Robert has traveled the country and lobbied in Washington D.C. to speak for protection of the Arctic Refuge. 

Robert worked as the guide for wildlife photographer Subhankar Banerjee for his landmark book Arctic National Wildlife Refuge: Seasons of Life and Land. The book has been essential in the movement to preserve the Arctic Refuge. Robert’s experience in Arctic conditions and unique knowledge of the land and wildlife were crucial to the book’s success. His skills helped Banerjee capture incredible photographs from all four seasons. 

“The Arctic Refuge is my home. It has been home to my people, the Iñupiat, for thousands of years. It is now as it has always been. I wish for it to remain this way for future generations of Iñupiat.

When my granddaughter was a small child, we were out on the land; she raised her hands and said, “Thank you, God, for this good land.” If we were in an oil field, would she have been so inspired?

The land as she saw it was something to be thankful for. It is an Iñupiat value to respect the land. It has taken care of us; it is part of our culture. It must be protected from exploitation to sustain the culture of future generations of Iñupiat.                                            

It must be preserved for all people.”

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