Love is King Project Roam Participants Travel from The Arctic Refuge to Washington, D.C.

When I visited Alaska with Love Is King Project Roam, I ventured into a new territory of outdoor adventure and experiences. When Chad Brown introduced the opportunity to travel to Alaska, something deep inside me said yes. I attended an Arctic National Wildlife Refuge deployment in July of 2022. We were honored to stay on the native lands of the Gwichʼin at Arctic Village and learn about their way of life, customs, and challenges. I returned from this trip forever changed, mentally, emotionally, and spiritually. The land’s beauty, awe, and vastness were like nothing I had seen in my lifetime.

The generosity of the Gwichʼin people was overwhelming. As they struggled with climate change and the effects of drilling on their livelihood – the Porcupine caribou herd – they extended incredible care and love for us.

As we were leaving our visit to Arctic Village in the Brooks Range in the Arctic, I asked Gwichʼin Second Chief Leonard if I could interview him. I asked him what he would want the people in the lower 48 to know. He said he wanted people to know they were there to protect the land for future generations and the world. Gwichʼin Second Chief Leonard wanted people in the Lower 48 to understand what was occurring in the lands of the Arctic and that the native peoples there are stewards of the caribou, land, and water not just for themselves but also for the world. He spoke of the changes in the land, water, and animals. The rivers are drying up, and the animals and habitats are changing. Gwichʼin Second Chief Leonard wants the rest of the country to know attention is needed in Alaska. It is ground zero for climate change, and what happens there will affect the lives of all. He asked us to see the changes and help protect this land – so important to both the Gwich’in and all of us. Alaska is for all of us, it is land for the world. I was inspired to use my voice and interaction to advocate for the people and land in Alaska.

When asked, I was excited to share my experience in Alaska with members of Congress. With the support of Alaska Wilderness League, the trip to Washington, D.C. with Love Is King allowed me to realize my intention to advocate for the people and land in Alaska. Alaska’s people, land, and animals need my voice of advocacy.

Meeting with congressional staff was a new experience for me. I have been to Washington, D.C. many times but have yet to visit any member of Congress’ office. It felt a bit like going to the principal’s office at first, but that feeling quickly fell away. Everyone was kind and welcoming and seeing a bit of carpet from our Portland International Airport in each Oregon office was a warm feeling.

Different offices had pictures of the state they represented and even snacks from the state. I had nine meetings in three days. On day one, we met with Michael Tejada, Director of the Office of Environmental Justice Environmental Protection Agency. We shared our experiences in Alaska and heard about the agency’s work to do the same. My takeaway from that meeting there is incredible urgency to protect so many vulnerable parts of Alaska.

The following day a small group of us met with staff from offices that included Sen. Warnock from Georgia, Sen. Booker from New Jersey, Sen. Wyden from Oregon, Minority Leader Jefferies, Rep. Blumenauer from Oregon, Rep. Bonamici from Oregon, and Rep. Lee from California. It was quite a day! In some of our meetings, we gathered in the office of the senator or representative. It was like looking into the world of Congress. The wheels were turning, and all those who we met with appreciated our stories. There was an authentic yearning to know more, visit, and support the people in Alaska. I felt like I was doing what Gwichʼin Second Chief Leonard asked of me when I was in Arctic Village.

I was surprised about how touched I was to meet with the staff of my representative, Bonamici, and connect with Senators Wyden and Merkley. I felt a sense of pride, ownership, and dedication for being there and witnessing the work that each supported in the nation. I was also moved by how much each person we met cared about our trip, wanted to hear our stories, and held the reality of what could be done to protect this precious land. Each had a fire of change agent and care; it left an impression about what happens in Washington, D.C., and the hard-working people we met there.

The next day we had two additional meetings to end our visit in Washington, D. C. One was with staff from Rep. Jayapal from Washington, and the other was with Sen. Merkley of Oregon. After so many meetings, one would think I would be tired, but that was not the case; aspects of my time in Alaska that I had not shared were discussed in these final meetings. As a woman of color, I was humbled by the diversity and pride in the offices of Rep. Lee from California and Rep. Jayapal from Washington. I felt proud to speak my truth and advocate for others in these offices, just like these two women of color.

I left this trip with a sense of pride and devotion to continue sharing, advocating, and working to protect land, people, and animals in Alaska. Traveling to Washington, D. C. and meeting with senators, representatives, and their staff regarding environmental justice was life-changing. This trip is another chapter in what I will continue to do for the world, just like Gwichʼin Second Chief Leonard encouraged.

Alaska Wilderness League’s partnership with Love is King is made possible in part through the generous support of the John McComb Memorial Fund.

Conversation between Dr. Lisa Collins and Gwich’in Second Chief Leonard: A message for the world

Dr. Lisa Collins is an author, educator, life coach, equity healing leader, assistant professor, and trauma healing practitioner. She specializes in racial healing for people of color and non-people of color. She utilizes her life coaching from Conscious Freedom and spirituality to provide acceptance and space for connectedness and oneness in a world that needs it so much.