A Photographer, an Indigenous Nation, and a Fight for Environmental Justice

This is a story of the grassroots taking on Goliath, of a slide show galvanizing the citizenry, of unlikely cross-cultural alliances forming across vast distances. It is a history written during an urgent time, infused with hope that things might still turn out differently.

As a public history project and companion to Defending the Arctic Refuge, this website shares source materials related to the book and the broader history of the Arctic Refuge struggle. In addition to featuring a recently-digitized version of the Last Great Wilderness slide show, the site includes a detailed timeline and a diverse array of primary sources.

The Slide Show

The Last Great Wilderness slide show was created by a group of amateur activists in the late 1980s. The music, images, and narration are a product of their time, but the show’s message and content seem surprisingly fresh and relevant today. Indeed, the show broke from conventional portrayals of the “last great wilderness” to present the Arctic Refuge in a broader frame. Beginning with the simple evocation of nature scenes, it becomes steadily more complex and wide-ranging to encompass wildlife migrations, Indigenous rights, and the need to transition to a more sustainable energy system. The show played a vital role in building alliances between environmentalists and the Gwich’in Nation and in fostering grassroots action to keep oil drills out of the Arctic Refuge.

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Defending the Arctic Refuge received the 2022 Spur Award for Best Contemporary Nonfiction from the Western Writers of America, the 2022 Hal K. Rothman Book Prize for Best Western Environmental History from the Western History Association, and the 2022 Alanna Bondar Memorial Book Prize from the Association for Literature, Environment, and Culture in Canada.

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Funding for this website project provided by the Symons Trust Fund for Canadian Studies (Trent University) and an
internal SSHRC Exchange Grant—Knowledge Mobilization Activities (Trent University).

Content Development and Research Assistance by Andrew Hoyt. Project Management by Elisabeth Balster Dabney. Design by Frolic Design.

Photographs on this page by Subhankar Banerjee and Peter Mather (book cover image).