The Caribou Are What Make Us Neets’ąįį Gwich’in

A plea against oil and gas drilling in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge

By Raeann Garnett

November 26, 2023

Photo by AP Photo

Caribou graze in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge in Alaska. | AP Photo

This article is adapted from an oral statement made by Chief Garnett during an October public hearing organized by the Bureau of Land Management to consider drilling in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge.


My name is Raeann Garnett. I am 27 years old, and I am the First Tribal Chief of Native Village of Venetie Tribal Government. I am very proud, blessed, and grateful to be Chief of our Tribe. It’s a huge honor. Venetie and Arctic Village are my home. I love our people, and I love our land. We may not be rich with money, but we are rich in culture.

Our culture is the land: caribou, moose, birds, and fish. We have recently finished our hunting season—the primary time when we can get the resources we need to exist throughout the year, both culturally and practically. However, the future of the Arctic Refuge and our existence is at risk. Currently, the Bureau of Land Management and the Fish and Wildlife Service are meeting with Tribes regarding, among other topics, the oil and gas leasing project in the Arctic Refuge.  

Our people have relied on the land of the refuge for millennia. For us, it is truly the sacred place where life beginsFor generations, during the fall months we gather together and wait to harvest caribou for the upcoming winter. Our village is located along the migration route of the caribou for this purpose. 

If oil and gas drilling projects move forward on the refuge, there is no telling how much our community and our culture will suffer. Hunters must wait hours and sometimes days to bring back meat that is needed to feed our families through our harsh winters. But we are happy to do so because it is what we have known for generations. It is part of what makes us Neets’ąįį Gwich’in. Caribou are our main source of food. A disruption to their migration route will make an already difficult situation even worse. 

Today, all our freezers are full, and we are very blessed. If the land is disturbed by oil and gas projects, and the caribou change their migration patterns away from our village, our lives will be catastrophically affected. If we are forced to fly foods in by freight, we will need hundreds of dollars to fly in and purchase steak, chicken, and pork—a cost that is usually unnecessary when we have a successful harvest. We cannot afford that. 

My grandma, a strong Neets’ąįį woman, passed away two years ago. She is the one who gives me my strength today to keep on going. I only have two more years in my term as Tribal Chief, but I will never stop speaking on this issue before my people and beside them. I will never stop saying no to oil drilling. I am against it and always will be. If the land of the refuge is disturbed, it is going to affect everything in our lives. Our culture, the land, and animals are sacred to all of us. The health of the Arctic Refuge depends on it.