Welcome To Gwichyaa Zee

Last week, Alaska Wilderness League was proud to come out to support our partners and allies at a screening of “Welcome to Gwichyaa Zee,” a film produced by The Wilderness Society and Natives Outdoors.

Above, the League’s Kelsie Rudolph greets D.C. guests with a bright smile and plenty of info on why we must protect the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge. (Alaska Wilderness League)

The film is currently on tour in Patagonia stores across the country, and we headed over to our local Patagonia store in Washington, D.C., with our friends from the Southern Utah Wilderness Alliance — our D.C. office-mates and partners in state-specific conservation work here in our nation’s capital.

While Alaska and Utah may be thousands of miles apart, they both are rich in natural landscapes connected to Indigenous homelands and sacred sites. The purpose of the film “Welcome to Gwichyaa Zee” is to explore that connection through the threats they face from resource extraction in places like Bears Ears National Monument (Utah) and the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge (Alaska).

Tabling next to SUWA at the Patagonia store before the screening, we met and chatted with local activists and interested community members about our specific issues, the threats to public lands and waters in Alaska. Once explained, the connection between Utah and Alaska was clear to those stopping by, their thoughtful questions showing a desire not only to learn more but to do their part to protect wild places.

Narrator Len Necefer and filmmaker Greg Balkin speak to attendees at the D.C. film screening. (Alaska Wilderness League)

By the time the film was ready to show, the store was packed with attendees from across the D.C. area, a complimentary beverage in hand and minds ready to learn more about a place most might never have a chance to visit. The film follows Len Necefer, co-director and founder of Natives Outdoors and his exploration of Bears Ears and the Arctic Refuge through stories and perspectives of the Diné (Navajo) and Gwich’in communities and being transported to the small and close-knit Gwich’in village of Fort Yukon, Alaska. His personal story frames the film — having grown up in the Navajo Nation to working in energy policy and befriending Gwich’in leaders like Bernadette Demientieff, executive director of the Gwich’in Steering Committee, in the fight to protect Indigenous lands across the country by those on the front lines of proposed development.

Our own Lois Norrgard attended a screening in St. Paul, Minnesota, earlier this month, and it was a similarly great experience. More than 80 people packed into the St. Paul Patagonia store to meet the filmmakers and see the movie, and organizations like Backcountry Hunters & Anglers and Southern Utah Wilderness Alliance joined us to help educate moviegoers. And the League’s Monica Scherer was on hand in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, where it was a standing room only event.

The League’s Lois Norrgard directing sign-ups in St. Paul, Minnesota. (Alaska Wilderness League)

More than 80 folks packed into the St. Paul Patagonia to watch the film and listen to narrator Len Necefer and filmmaker Greg Balkin. (Alaska Wilderness League)

The Trump administration is barreling forward in the process to develop an oil and gas program for the coastal plain of the Arctic Refuge, unconcerned for the consequences that will be faced by the Gwich’in people of northeast Alaska and Canada. The film underscores the dependence on and connection to the Porcupine caribou herd, whose calving grounds are on the very lands under consideration for development and whose numbers would be dramatically reduced with this kind of disruption. The film physically brings this issue to those of us across the United States who want to do our part and speak up for the voices being ignored by lawmakers and the administration, for those (the majority) fighting to protect the Arctic Refuge and defend Bears Ears.

It was standing room only at a Patagonia film event in Pittsburgh. (Alaska Wilderness League)

The film is now available online for viewing and sharing. You can take action by hosting a watch party and staying up to date on the issues!