Gwich’in leaders call on Canadian banks to suspend financing of oil and gas in Alaska wildlife refuge

The Gwich'in Tribal Council offices in Inuvik. (CKLB file photo).

Leaders from the Gwich’in Tribal Council (GTC) and Vuntut Gwitchin Government (VGG) are urging Canadian banks to follow their American counterparts in banning oil and gas exploration in Alaska’s Arctic National Wildlife Refuge.

Last December, representatives from the GTC, VGG and the Yukon chapter of the Canadian Parks and Wilderness Society travelled to Toronto to meet with major Canadian banks.

“Through these meetings and continued correspondence. Canadian banks have been provided a clear understanding of the immense human and environmental impacts and financial risks associated with oil and gas exploration or development in the Arctic Refuge,” wrote the GTC and VGG in a joint news release.

“Movement from Canadian banks is even more critical now as financing options for those interested in pursuing drilling in the Arctic Refuge keep disappearing,” said Councillor Cheryl J. Charlie of the Vuntut Gwitchin First Nation in Old Crow in a statement. “I believe we have presented a strong case to Canadian banks and remain hopeful that they will choose to stand with the Gwich’in Nation by refusing to finance the destruction of our sacred lands.”

However, leaders have still not had a firm commitment from any of the banks they visited, including CIBC, RBC, TD, Scotiabank and BMO.

“Such an action,” they write, “would be greatly celebrated by the Gwich’in Nation and millions of supporters across Canada and the United States.”

Several large American banks have changed their policies when it comes to supporting projects within the ANWR, including Citi, Goldman Sachs, JPMorgan Chase and Wells Fargo. Morgan Stanley is the latest to add its name to the list by updating its Environment and Social Policy Statement. 

“We will not directly finance new oil and gas exploration and development in the Arctic, including the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge,” it reads.

Saving traditional land use

The Arctic National Wildlife Refuge is home to the calving grounds of Porcupine Caribou, a staple species for the Gwich’in.

In a statement, Gwich’in Tribal Council Grand Chief Bobbie Jo Greenland-Morgan said many people have returned to the land for food during the COVID-19 pandemic.

“We rely heavily on the land for our survival,” she said. “Most of the foods we harvest come from the land, caribou being the primary food, supplemented by moose, fish, and birds.”

She added that Gwich’in people also have a “duty to protect and preserve this gift for future generations.”

About the Author

Francis Tessier-Burns
Francis was a reporter with CKLB from January 2019 to March 2023. In his time with CKLB, he had the immense pleasure and honour of learning about northern Indigenous cultures.