ANCHORAGE (KTUU) - Members of an Alaska Native group are speaking out after heated words were exchanged between the state's sole Congressman, Don Young, and representatives present at a meeting last month dealing with ANWR.
"These are the Alaska Natives directly affected not the Gwich'in. That's my tribe. My wife was Gwich'in, my daughters are Gwich'in. We have a few Gwich'in that make a living out of this," said Congressman Don Young during a hearing at a U.S. House Energy and Mineral subcommittee meeting.
The statement occurred after Gwich’in Steering Committee members testified at the March 26 hearing in regards to drilling on the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge. The hearing was led by House Democrats in order to reverse a 2017 decision by the Trump administration to allow drilling on ANWR. The Gwich’in strongly oppose the drilling as the area of land in question is also the calving ground for the Porcupine Caribou herd, which they hold sacred.
Young’s words sparked the Gwich'in people to respond, saying Young does not represent their people. In a letter they wrote to the subcommittee chair Alan Lowenthal signed by their tribal leaders, they said Young misrepresented them by association.
They said Young claimed the tribe to be foreigners on the land they hope to protect, which they say is not the case. They say the land has been a sacred site to their migrating tribe for thousands of years.
Bernadette Demientieff, executive director of the Gwich’in Steering Committee says, "He does not represent our people. And we want to make that very very clear. We don't want to wish any ill feelings or nothing on Don Young. We just want him to quit claiming that he is Gwich'in."
Representative Young argued in the hearing that the tribe does not have any claim to the property as they do not live there. He says the tribe the committee should be concerned with is the Inuit people who reside on the refuge.
Channel 2 reached out to Rep. Young and his staff for a comment, but as of this filing, did not get a response.