Time immemorial-Present

The Word “Gwich’in” Means…

The word “Gwich’in” means ‘people of the land.’ Before the political boundaries between Canada and the US were established, the Gwich’in existed and thrived in the region now known as Alaska (US), Yukon (Canada), and the Northwest Territories (Canada). The present-day Gwich’in Nation is settled between 15 villages in Alaska and Canada.



Aerial image of caribou herd migrating on snow and ice

Alaska Purchased

Alaska “purchased” from Russia by the United States. The territory that is now known as Alaska was never sold nor ceded to Russia or the United States by its original inhabitants, Alaska’s Indigenous Peoples.


The boundary line between Canada and the United States is established. 

The settler nations sent a joint survey party through Gwich’in territory to extend the boundary line along the 141st meridian. The hardening of boundaries, together with new regulations and duties, bisected the Gwich’in Nation, making travel across the international border to visit family members and share country foods increasingly difficult.


President Harding sets aside the Naval Petroleum Reserve Number 4

Name (changed to the National Petroleum Reserve-Alaska (NPR-A) in 1976) for potential development of oil supplies for the US Navy. The NPR-A and the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge are both vast public lands in northern Alaska. While the Arctic Refuge has remained off limits to oil and gas development, the NPRA, despite being the largest roadless public land in the US and a significant source of traditional foods for its inhabitants, continues to be a source of carbon-intensive extraction. 

Lenny Kohm in red thermal underwear in front of lake.

Lenny Kohm is born. 

He was a ‘man of the people’…a down-to-earth organizer who believed in the grassroots. 


Porcupine Caribou
Herd Identified

The Porcupine Caribou herd, named after the Porcupine River, is identified and named by Alaskan and Canadian biologists.


The first use of “the last great wilderness”…

The first use of “the last great wilderness” to describe what would become the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge by George L. Collins
and Lowell Sumner in the Sierra Club Bulletin.


Campaign to protect northeastern corner of alaska begins

The campaign to protect the northeastern corner of Alaska begins. The use of grassroots visual culture included documentary films and slide shows.
In 1956 Olaus Murie, Mardy Murie, Brina Kessel, George Schaller, and Robert Krear set out on the Sheenjek expedition.



Alaska becomes a state

President Eisenhower signs the Alaska Statehood Act making Alaska the 49th state.


Arctic National Wildlife Range established

The Eisenhower administration established the Arctic National Wildlife Range.

The Gwich’in Nation and conservationists worked together….

The Gwich’in Nation and conservationists worked together to defeat the proposed Rampart Dam proposal, foreshadowing an alliance
that would form to protect the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge.

The Rampart Dam was finally defeated in the 1960s, but not for the same reasons that ended the Dinosaur dam proposal a decade earlier. In the Dinosaur campaign, wilderness advocates had emphasized the stunning scenery of the monument, the sanctity of the national park system, and the desire for escape and rejuvenation in wild nature. In contrast, the fight against
the Rampart Dam emphasized the human and ecological significance of Yukon Flats. For Gwich’in communities, the proposed dam represented an assault on their way of life. For conservation activists and scientists who protested the Rampart Dam, the region deserved protection not for its aesthetic or recreational value but for the irreplaceable wildlife habitats and communities of life the dam would wash away.
In the 1960s, the Rampart Dam controversy galvanized Gwich’in villages in Alaska to defend their homeland.
Across the border a decade later, a proposed pipeline provoked an even larger, more public reckoning over the costs of development in the Canadian North.


Wilderness Act Signed

President Johnson signed the Wilderness Act.


[Jonathon] Solomon explained why the Gwich’in Nation endorsed wilderness designation for the coastal plain, but he also encouraged committee members to consider the refuge from the perspective of Gwich’in communities. “I want to say one more thing about Wilderness,” he continued. “For this area you should make clear that subsistence activities are to be protected.
 You define Wilderness as a place where people are visitors. I’m sure this area seems this way to you, but to us this whole region is occupied already. Where you see empty land I see hundreds of camps still used by our people. Where you see a faraway reserve,
 we see our back yard.” Here Solomon paraphrased the influential definition of wilderness enshrined in the Wilderness Act of 1964—a place “where man himself is a visitor who does not remain”—but then reframed the refuge as homeland, a place intimately connected
 to the lives and culture of his people.

The Atlantic Richfield Company (ARCO) discovered oil….

The Atlantic Richfield Company (ARCO) discovered oil at Prudhoe Bay, setting off intensified speculation about whether even more
oil and gas could be extracted across the North Slope of Alaska, including the Arctic National Wildlife Range.




ANCSA signed into Law

The Alaska Native Claims Settlement Act (ANCSA) is signed into law.


“It’s illegitimate.”
That’s how Faith Gemmill, the former
program director for the Gwich’in Steering Committee, described the Alaska Native Claims Settlement Act (ANCSA). “Those corporations are illegitimate,” she continued. “Our tribal governments are the real voice of our people. We’re the actual representatives.
The corporations were created just to streamline resource development, get access to the resources, divide us. And,” she emphasized, “assimilate us. Eventually the plan would be to terminate us as tribes. Tribes would no longer exist in Alaska. That’s their plan. They want those corporations to be recognized as the tribes.” The implications of ANCSA, Faith believes, are patently absurd. “That’s like granting Shell Oil sovereignty. You can’t grant a corporation sovereignty. Sovereignty is inherent to tribes.”

The fairbanks environmental centre is formed

The Fairbanks Environmental Center was formed in Fairbanks,
Alaska as the first Alaska-based environmental center working on arctic issues. This set in motion the opportunity for deeper conservation-Indigenous alliances and the expanded use of grassroots tactics.


Thomas Berger conducted the Mackenzie Valley Pipeline inquiry

Thomas Berger conducted the Mackenzie Valley Pipeline

The Mackenzie Valley Pipeline would
have been the longest pipeline ever constructed in the world. Proposed by a consortium of twenty-seven Canadian and American companies, the pipeline would have reached from Prudhoe Bay to Alberta, snaking through northeastern Alaska, Yukon, and the Northwest Territories to funnel natural gas to southern markets.
In 1974, Prime Minister Pierre Trudeau appointed Justice Thomas Berger to head the Mackenzie Valley Pipeline Inquiry. Berger did something unexpected. After holding initial hearings in Yellowknife, the main population center of the Northwest Territories, he spent two years traveling to remote villages across Yukon and the Northwest Territories, holding hearings in every community that might be affected by the pipeline. In total, Berger visited thirty-five villages, hamlets, and towns throughout the Mackenzie Delta and western Arctic and received testimony from almost 1,000 witnesses in seven different languages, as he made sure translators were available so people could speak in their own tongue. At each place, Berger promised to stay “as long as it takes for anyone to speak who wants to do so.”
When Berger visited Old Crow in 1975, he learned that the “whole village” was “opposed to the pipeline.” “I heard 81 people testify; virtually everyone, man and woman, young and old, spoke and they spoke with one voice.” The people told him about the Gwich’in connection with the caribou, “the mainstay” of their life and culture “for thousands of years.” “Today these people are apprehensive,” Berger observed, “because they fear that the caribou, and thus they themselves, are threatened. . . . These people fear that the white man may destroy their land and the caribou. They and the caribou have made a long journey across time. . . . Is this journey to end now?”

Berger Inquiry – PWNHC | CPSPG

Construction of the 800-mile Trans-Alaska Pipeline

The construction of the 800-mile Trans-Alaska Pipeline.



The Alaska Coalition and Alaska lands campaign formed

The Alaska Coalition and Alaska lands campaign formed. Grassroots visual culture, like slide shows, were regularly used to support messaging and advocacy.

Alaska Coalition leaders nationalized the issue by bringing it to the grassroots and by ensuring that local media outlets covered pro-wilderness views and events. “Use your local newspapers, radio and TV stations to maximize the impact of your grassroots efforts,” one coalition newsletter instructed. “It is vital that we make sure that the media hear our side of the story.” This coverage, they hoped, would trickle up to legislative offices and influence key members of Congress.

Lenny Kohm moved to California where he would later….

Lenny Kohm moved to Sonoma, California where he would later found the Sonoma Coalition for the Arctic Refuge, a grassroots group, outside of Alaska, campaigning for the protection of the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge.


President Carter signs the Alaska National Interest Lands Conservation Act (ANILCA) which includes strong language protecting subsistence rights and protection of caribou calving grounds.


ANILCA doubled the size of the now renamed Arctic National Wildlife Refuge to 19 million acres, making it the largest wildlife refuge in the United States. This vast landscape unfolds as a succession of diverse ecological zones: in the north, an expansive coastal plain along the Beaufort Sea, marked by river deltas, wetlands, and an unforested tundra that leads to foothills and, farther south, to the glaciated peaks of the Brooks Range, the refuge’s largest zone, and finally to the rolling taiga and boreal forests that thrive in its southernmost reaches.
While 8 million acres of the refuge was granted permanent wilderness status, Section 1002 (pronounced “ten-o-two”) of ANILCA identified the 1.5-million-acre coastal plain as a special study area and authorized the Department of the Interior to conduct biological and geological assessments of the region. A future Congress would have the power to decide whether the Arctic coastal plain would receive wilderness status or be opened to fossil fuel development. Section 1002 set in motion the long battle that has ensued ever since.

Thomas Berger was invited to Alaska…

Thomas Berger was invited to Alaska to study effects of the Alaska Native Claims Settlement Act (ANCSA).

“Many Alaska Natives simply do not accept ANCSA because it was, they believe, imposed on them by Congress,” he remarked. “They think now that their traditional tribal governments were the only appropriate bodies to make these decisions, and Congress never consulted with the tribal governments.” Refusing to consider tribal governments as valid instruments for land claims, US policy makers instead opted for “a corporate model of landholding.” Why? Congress “did not wish to acknowledge the legitimacy of Native ways of life,” Berger argued. “Alaska Natives were a problem to be solved, and Congress thought it knew how to
solve it.”


creation of northern yukon national park

Inuvialuit Final Agreement signed and the creation of Northern Yukon National Park. The name of the National Park later changed to Ivvavik, meaning “a place for giving birth, a nursery.”


Porcupine Caribou Management Board was founded

The Porcupine Caribou Management Board was founded.



Bilateral agreement between US & Canada was formulated recognizing…

A bilateral agreement between the United States and Canada was formulated recognizing the significance of the Porcupine caribou herd to Indigenous communities on both sides of the border and emphasizing the “the importance of conserving the habitat” of the herd.



Download Kohm senate Testimony pdf

Lenny Kohm has an epiphany

Lenny Kohm had an epiphany at 47-years old.

What happened next stayed with Lenny for the rest of his life. It’s likely that he shared this story every time he presented the slide show. There were several leaders from Old Crow, Yukon, who had traveled to Arctic Village to participate in the hearing. According to Lenny, Alfred Charlie, an elder, was the first to testify. He spoke in Gwich’in, his native tongue, for twelve minutes. Charlie was followed by Stanley Njootli, a younger leader, who translated his testimony into English. As Lenny recounted, Njootli “got six minutes into the translation of Alfred Charlie’s speech, and the chairperson of the delegation stood up and said, ‘We got to be back in Fairbanks in an hour and a half, thank you all for coming and have a nice day.’” Lenny was appalled: “[A]nd that was it. A 30,000-year-old culture had eighteen minutes to defend itself ! That moment for me was an incredible epiphany,” he explained. “I can remember sitting there thinking that 500 years ago, Cortés and Pizarro swept across Central and South America and wiped out the Aztec and the Inca, and it was because they wanted the gold. Then 150 years ago, we swept across the Great Plains and slaughtered the buffalo because we needed the land. And now, in 1987, we are getting ready to do it again because we need the oil.”


Lenny Kohm testified at the US Senate

Lenny Kohm testified at the US Senate.

The Sonoma Coalition for the Arctic Refuge is formed

The Sonoma Coalition for the Arctic Refuge is formed.


The US Fish & Wildlife Service published a heavily distorted report…

The US Fish & Wildlife Service published a heavily distorted report on the impact of oil development on wildlife, suppressing scientific information and leading to a whistleblower coming forward with the true findings of USFWS field research.


[FROM the Book]
The sixty-page report, completed in December 1987, compiled abundant evidence calling into question the official line of the oil industry—a view endorsed by Reagan’s Interior Department—that “petroleum operations have not harmed the Arctic environment.” But Interior officials stifled the report. They distorted the data, shrank the text, and then sent Representative Miller a final, four-page version that contained, as Pam [Miller] put it, “many opposite conclusions.” Even as the field staff team “tried to be accurate and comprehensive,” agency leaders believed that “the data wasn’t important.” It was malleable, something that could be manipulated to suit their agenda.”

Norma Kassi visits Sonoma, California

Norma Kassi visits Sonoma, California.


Lenny Kohm visits Norma Kassi …

Lenny Kohm visits Norma Kassi at Crow Flats and takes photographs for the slide show.

The first gathering of the Gwich’in Nation in over 100 years

The first gathering of the Gwich’in Nation in over 100 years takes place in Arctic Village, Alaska. Now known as the Gwich’in Gathering.



The Gwich’in Steering Committee was founded

The Gwich’in Steering Committee was founded.