Film on Arctic refuge battle set for Pittsburgh screening
A battle by Native Americans to protect Alaska’s Arctic National Wildlife Refuge takes center stage in “Welcome to Gwichyaa Zhee,” a short film that will be screened for free at 7:30 p.m. Wednesday at the Patagonia Pittsburgh outdoor clothing store.
The film focuses on the Gwich’in people, a nation of Native Americans who live in villages scattered across northeastern Alaska and northern sections of Canada’s Yukon and Northwest territories. The Gwich’in, whose name means “people of the land,” are said to have lived in the area for as long as 20,000 years.
The film takes the viewer to Gwichyaa Zhee, also known as Fort Yukon, Alaska, just a mile from the Arctic Circle. It examines how that community’s indigenous residents are fighting to protect the wildlife refuge and its wild caribou herds from the disruption of oil and gas development.
Presented by The Wilderness Society, the film notes parallels between the situation at the Arctic refuge and at Utah’s Bears Ears National Monument, which is at the heart of a debate involving mining interests, environmental concerns and preservation of Native American cultural sites.
According to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge covers about 19.6 million acres of land and water. Its diverse wildlife includes two herds of caribou and more than 200 species of migratory and resident birds.
An estimated 1,200 to 1,500 people visit the refuge annually, most flying in since there are no roadways within its borders.
Following the film, attendees may address questions to its co-directors, Greg Balkin and Len Necefer. Balkin edited the film. Necefer, who narrates it, is a scholar and founder of NativesOutdoors, an outdoor products company that supports indigenous people.
Those who arrive at 6:30 p.m. may take part in a meet-and-greet session with representatives of area environmental nonprofits, who will discuss what they do and how people can get involved in their efforts. Free snacks and refreshments will be served.
Patagonia is located at 5509 Walnut St. in Pittsburgh’s Shadyside neighborhood.
Jeff Himler is a Tribune-Review staff writer. You can contact Jeff at 724-836-6622, [email protected] or via Twitter .