The 13-minute film ‘Welcome to Gwichyaa Zhee’ is a cry to arms for the Gwich’in people, the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge, and the life they’ve forged therein. It’s a must-watch, followed by a must-act.
As chants of “drill, baby, drill” echo in recent political memory, this film — created by Dr. Len Necefer — calls for an alternative battle cry. And it’s one that captures the heart and soul of both his people and the vast and beautiful land that sustains them.
“Our children and our future generations deserve to see this world as it was in the beginning. Not just when we’re done with it.”
Over the past few years, we’ve all been privy to the energy development wars over places like Bears Ears and Grand Staircase-Escalante national monuments. But Alaska holds an entirely different landscape that’s at risk for energy development. And out of all of these landscapes, our Arctic National Wildlife Refuge is the most biodiverse. And it’s one of the true wildernesses left in our borders, at 19.2 million acres. The Gwich’in people make a life on this landscape, and their voices are vital to its long-term viability.
What “Welcome to Gwiichyaa Zhee” does most succinctly is provide an initial platform to hear the voice of the natives, to connect to the home they’ve long built, and to measure what they’ve seen with development and how it could impact the delicate ecosystem of the Arctic.
“We need to stand together, we need to learn about each other’s issues, and we need to start helping each other.”
The Gwich’in live off the land as a matter of food security. A gallon of milk can cost $15 in the veritable food desert of the Arctic, but the meat from a moose can sustain a family for the winter. It’s a life that’s hard to identify with when you’re a lower-48er like myself. But, as someone who works hard to fill my freezer, I take pause when I consider what it would mean to depend on those rations. The film takes that on, and it does it from the perspective of family, love, and enduring tradition.
“Anything you do to the land, it will come back to you.”
And that’s the core message. The Gwich’in are a small tribe, but they’re a part of the whole. I might not ever step foot on the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge or sit down to dinner with a Gwich’in family, but I can make my voice heard for their cause. And so can you.
Of course, the film speaks for itself. At 13 minutes, it’s a quick, formidable, graceful bout of storytelling. I finished with tears in my eyes. Then, I reached out to my representatives. It was quick, easy, and necessary. I urge you to join me in doing the following: