The lands within the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge — “ANWR” to those who would like to see it opened to oil development — have sustained the native Gwich’in people for thousands of years.

The coastal plain, referred to as “The Sacred Place Where Life Begins” by the Gwich’in, supports thousands of calving caribous in the spring, nesting migratory birds in the summer, and denning polar bears in the winter. The survival of the Gwich’in is dependent on the well being of these animals.

I have spent nearly two months with the Gwich’in and have seen firsthand their dependence on and connection to the caribou. The caribou is their food, their song, their heart — they are the caribou people. For the Gwich’in, protecting the caribou is a matter of basic human rights.

The Trump administration’s rush to sell off the Arctic Refuge must be halted. We must restore protections to stop destructive oil exploration and drilling.

I recently had the chance to meet with Rep. Ben McAdams, and am grateful to him for cosponsoring the Arctic Cultural and Coastal Plain Protection Act, which is pending in the U.S. House of Representatives. It’s time to protect the Arctic and stand with the Gwich’in. Hopefully the full House will follow by passing this important legislation.

Zeppelin Zeerip, Salt Lake City