Hartford activists, indigenous leaders urge Travelers to protect Arctic Refuge

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Indigenous and Gwich’in (an Alaska Native group) leaders and local Connecticut activists gathered in support of protecting the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge from drilling in Hartford last week, according to a press release.  

Organizers of the event compiled a list of at least 64,000 signatures for a petition “urging the CEO of Travelers Insurance…to join other insurance companies across the globe in committing to not underwrite or insure oil and gas exploration in the Arctic Refuge,” according to a press release.  

The arctic refuge’s coastal plain serves as the “calving grounds” of a Porcupine caribou herd that Gwich’in people consider to be sacred, the press release said. The refuge is known for its wildlife and animals such as polar bears, wolves, moose and birds.  

“TRavelers, it’s time you put policies in place that will be proactive, not responsive, not just to mother earth and her protection, but to the people who rely on her for survival, the first nations and others, which happens to include you, your employees and their families too. your contributions to climate chaos is putting all of humanity in danger, not just the indigenous of these lands.”

Liz Martin

In fact, according to the Gwich’in Steering Committee’s executive director Bernadette Demientieff, Gwich’in people often refer to the refuge as “Iizhik Gwats’an Gwandaii Goodlit,” which translates to “the sacred place where life begins.”  

“The Arctic Refuge is known to the Gwich’in people as ‘Iizhik Gwats’an Gwandaii Goodlit,’” said Demientieff. “The Gwich’in culture is intertwined with the Porcupine Caribou Herd, and we have been advocating not just for the caribou but for our lands and ways of life, which are all interconnected.”  

The Arctic Refuge, according to the press release, was opened to drilling in a Tax Act from 2017, and indigenous groups have since been attempting to prevent major banks and insurance companies from financing and insuring the drilling.  

So far, the leaders have successfully convinced six of the largest American banks and five of the largest Canadian banks, as well as an additional 18 international banks, to issue policies against financing of the drilling. However, no American insurer has yet issued a “clear policy to protect the Arctic Refuge,” the press release stated.  

“the arctic refuge is known to the gwich’in people as ‘iizhik gwats’an gwandaii goodlit. the gwich’in culture is intertwined with the porcupine caribou herd, and we have been advocating not just for the caribou but for our lands and ways of life, which are all interconnected.”

Bernadette Demientieff

Liz Martin, a representative of a community program called Seeding Sovereignty, gave a speech at the event, demanding that Travelers Insurance put policies in place that are “proactive” rather than “responsive.”  

“Travelers, it’s time you put policies in place that will be proactive, not responsive, not just to Mother Earth and her protection, but to the people who rely on her for survival, The First Nations and others, which happens to include you, your employees and their families too,” Martin said. “Your contributions to climate chaos is putting all of humanity in danger, not just the Indigenous of these lands.”  

The executive director of the Nonprofit Accountability Group in Hartford, Tenaya Taylor, emphasized the importance of people gathering together to tackle challenges and come up with solutions for the future.  

“When we have been met with challenges we’ve learned that the best thing to do is come together to create solutions for each other,” said Taylor. “When the Arctic is under threat, we are all under threat. A better tomorrow means investing in people so they can breathe cleaner air, drink fresh water, and have access to biodiversity in their living environments.”  

A first-year student at the University of Connecticut’s Hartford campus, Romina Flores Diaz, said fellow students want to see insurance companies do their part in protecting the refuge.  

“My peers and I want insurance companies in Hartford to see that protecting the Arctic Refuge is important to college students,” said Diaz. “The Arctic Refuge is one of our last unspoiled places in the United States. Protecting the Porcupine caribou herd and the land sacred to the Gwich’in People outweighs any marginal economic gain.” 

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