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Bishop Gallagher appeals to Congress to protect Gwich’in land

Bishop Gallagher appeals to Congress to protect Gwich’in land

In an opinion published in the Independent Record, the Rt. Rev. Carol Joy Walkingstick Gallagher, Bishop for Native American Ministries and the Assistant Bishop of the Episcopal Diocese of Montana writes that Congress must act to protect the Gwich’in people’s ancestral lands.

For tens of thousands of years, the Gwich’in people of Alaska’s Arctic National Wildlife Refuge have observed their own sacred springtime ritual. Each spring, the Porcupine caribou migrate to Coastal Plains region of the Arctic Refuge to give birth to their calves. The Gwich’in give thanks for this returning herd on which they rely – both for sustenance and for their cultural and spiritual wellbeing.

In fact, the Gwich’in are so interdependent with the Porcupine caribou that they have a myth that they and the caribou share a piece of each other’s heart. What’s more, they call the caribou’s birthplace “the sacred place where life begins.” That phrase might well be used to describe Easter Sunday, too.

 I feel a strong kinship to the Gwich’in people – not only because I too have Indigenous heritage, but also because nine in ten Gwich’in are also my brothers and sisters in Christ as members of the Episcopal church. The truth of their interdependence with the Porcupine caribou is as deep to them as our shared truth in Christ’s resurrection.

That’s why I urge every member of Montana’s congressional delegation to protect the Gwich’in’s ancestral lands by giving them wilderness protection. This vital protection bans the oil and gas exploration and development that would permanently disrupt the porcupine Caribou’s migration, deplete their population, and ruin the sacred place where Gwich’in life has begun for millennia.

Read more of Bishop Gallagher’s appeal here.

Photo: Porcupine caribou herd, by U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

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