Gwich’in Tribes Fight to Protect Sacred Arctic Lands
On December 15, 2020, the Native Village of Venetie Tribal Government, Arctic Village Council, and Venetie Village Council, sought a temporary restraining order and a preliminary injunction prohibiting the Trump Administration from approving seismic exploration and issuing oil and gas leases in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge’s Coastal Plain. An injunction is necessary to stop imminent injury to lands the Gwich’in Tribes hold sacred.
According to the filing, it is well-documented that seismic surveying activities have caused, and are likely to cause, irreparable damage to the Coastal Plain landscape and ecosystem. The large-scale and intensive seismic exploration activities proposed to begin in January 2021 are likely to cause irreparable harm to the Tribes, the Coastal Plain, caribou and other wildlife, as well as tribal archaeological and cultural resources.
The upcoming lease sale, scheduled for January 6, 2021, also is likely to cause irreparable harm. Unlike typical oil and gas leases, the Coastal Plain leases will guarantee lessees rights-of-way and easements across areas outside their lease tract boundaries, resulting in irreparable harm across vast swaths of the Coastal Plain. The geographic scope of the sale is breathtakingly expansive; defendants are proposing to make essentially the entire 1.5 million acres of the Coastal Plain available. Courts have recognized the irreparable harm flowing from the issuance of these types of leases and granted preliminary injunctions to prevent oil and gas lease sales and maintain the status quo pending the outcome of litigation.
“Throughout this politicized review process, this administration ignored both the rights of the Tribes and the popular call nationwide to keep this incredible region protected. The Coastal Plain is the cornerstone of Gwich’in culture and the Tribes refer to it as: “Iizhik Gwats’an Gwandaii Goodlit,” the “Sacred Place Where Life Begins.” With this blatant attempt to offer up the Coastal Plain in less than thirty days and in the midst of a global pandemic and ongoing litigation, the adminsitration continues to ignore tribal rights, public interests, and the basic tenets of law,” said NARF Staff Attorney Matthew Newman.