Holistic Sustainability in the Arctic


The Gwich’in town of Arctic Village lies north of the Arctic Circle and just south of the border of the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge (ANWR), often called “the last great wilderness”. In August, six SNC students met SNC Professor Brennan Lagasse in Fairbanks AK and took a bush plane to Arctic Village, to share the traditions of the Gwich’in Tribe and experience firsthand the majesty and vulnerability of ANWR. This once in a lifetime opportunity for SNC students resulted from tribal elder Sarah James’s respect for Professor Lagasse’s previous work with Indigenous peoples, and the tribe’s commitment to make “friends in the south” to advocate for their environment and way of life.

  • Arctic-Sustainability-2014-450-1
  • Arctic-Sustainability-2014-450-3

During their time in Arctic Village, students went hunting and fishing with their hosts; participated in elder celebrations, and many interviews and discussions with local tribal members; ate traditional meals of caribou, fry bread, and ground squirrel; and hiked and camped amongst the rugged peaks of the Brooks Range.

  • Arctic-Sustainability-2014-450-6
  • Arctic-Sustainability-2014-450-5

The status of ANWR, home to an incredible diversity of flora and fauna, is the socio-political and environmental issue at the center of the lives of the Gwich’in, and the focus of this Special Topics class. Although ANWR is protected, its oil deposits trigger many attempts to open it to drilling. Gwich’in translates literally as Caribou People; the village and culture completely revolve around the Porcupine caribou. Drilling in the northern section of ANWR (Area 1002) would directly affect the calving grounds of the caribou and disrupt their migration route close to Arctic Village, impacting the Porcupine Caribou, Gwich’in People, and ecosystem health.

  • Arctic-Sustainability-2014-450-2
  • Arctic-Sustainability-2014-450-4

The class responded to the challenge on several fronts:

  • A donation to the continued protection of Gwich’in Culture and the ecosystem integrity of the area
  • An advocacy letter lobbying President Obama to protect Area 1002/ANWR with a National Monument designation
  • An environmentally related article offered to the ECOWATCH group on behalf of SNC
  • The creation of a “ZINE” to showcase the students’ experience on their trip
  • An additional personal project of each student’s choice
  • A final group presentation October 1st at 7 pm at SNC. OPEN TO ALL

For more information or to get involved, please contact instructor Brennan Lagasse at blagasse@sierranevada.edu

Photos: Rachael Blum, Brennan Lagasse