The Last Oil -- Gwich'in David Solomon 'Rise Up and Defend Arctic and Caribou'
Article by Brenda Norrell
ALBUQUERQUE, David Solomon, Gwich'in of Fort Yukon, urged the people to rise up and defend the caribou and Arctic National Wildlife Refuge, as oil drilling again threatens the Gwich'in homeland.
"We need you," David said, speaking at "The Last Oil," three-day symposium, ongoing now at the University of New Mexico.
As runaway oil and gas drilling threatens Mother Earth, David is among 26 Native people, activists, professors and scientists sharing their words, songs and wisdom at the university, through Friday night.
David shared what he learned from his elders, including his father, the late Jonathan Solomon, who led the fight during his lifetime.
With an introduction in his own language, David said, "When I prepare my speech, I don't use paper. I speak from the heart."
"I grew up in the western world. I learned how to dress like the western world. But when I went back to Fort Yukon, I took them off."
David said he kept what he learned in the western world, including what he learned of technology. "But we could never, ever, forget the way we grew up, or the way we hunt."
The late Jonathan Solomon, his father, lived to be 76. His grandfather Paul Solomon, lived to be 95. His dad's mom lived to be 103. His mom's mom lived to be 101, "and still have black hair."
"I grew up with my dad hunting caribou, the Porcupine herd."
"When we hunt up there, we get in a boat, and we travel up there toward Old Crow."
He hunted the caribou with his mom, brother and father.
David said he is representing his people in Alaska and the Northwest Territory in Canada, and speaks on behalf of the elders. He speaks for the caribou and the birds.
David said the birds birth there in his homeland.
Sharing the good news, he said, "The caribou is in Arctic Village right now."
"We are happy to see them there again."
David spoke of his father's legacy. Jonathan's life impacted so many people.
"My dad is an eagle."
"I learned from our elders," he said of trapping and fishing.
His grandpas shared with him how to hunt and fish. They watched the first caribou come across the mountain. Those caribou are the leaders, the first herd, and are allowed to pass.
Sharing the sounds of the caribou, David described thousands of the caribou coming. His grandfather told him to pick out the fattest caribou.
David said in hunting caribou, one has to understand the route they go each year, and understand the leaders, so the second herd will know where to go.
"It is the same thing with our Native people and our leaders."
In the 1980s, the people came together as the oil fields threatened them, and threatened the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge.
When the Gwich'in discussed what to do, they only spoke their own language. This way the media could not twist their words around.
"Our elders are our leaders who lead us through this fight."
He said the elders were placed on the steering committees for life, for that is the right way.
His father, Jonathan, said they would never drill while he was still alive, and they never did. He died in 2006.
David's father's brother Peter stood up and led the fight. He died 7 years later.
"When he passed away, no one stood up. So, I said I would."
Sharing the traditional items he brought with him, he said, "Every part of the caribou we use."
David said he grew up in 50 or 60 below temperatures, wearing snowshoes and mittens, and using dog sleds. He shared the gun case his father gave him.
He grew up with no electricity, and "running water," meant running to the river to get it.
"Spruce bark was our mattress."
"We used all these things for a reason."
"That's how we grew up."
"There are so many things in life we take for granted."
David shared his father's words in the struggle in Washington, D.C. "We will walk the halls of Congress."
At the end of David's talk, he said they needed the young people to come behind them.
"We can't leave our elders behind."
"We need our elders on the frontline."
He said the elders need to mentor the young people.
David sang a song, urging the people to rise up and defend the caribou.
David said when an epidemic hit their people, and killed them by the thousands, they needed the help of the white people.
"We need you now."
Watch this presentation at, and watch live, the three day symposium, The Last Oil: https://thelastoil.unm.edu/watch-live/
In Memory, Jonathan SolomonFort Yukon
“It is our belief that the future of the Gwich’in and the future of the caribou are the same. We cannot stand by and let them sell our children’s heritage to the oil companies.”
The Seattle Times, Monday, March 5th, 2001
The Seattle Times, Monday, March 5th, 2001
Jonathon Solomon passed away on July 13, 2006. Jonathon served on the Gwich’in Steering Committee since its formation. He drew upon decades of experience and knowledge from the Rampart Dam fight to the Alaska Native Land Claims Settlement, which helped to put the Gwich’in Nation in a stronger position to protect the Sacred Place Where Life Begins. We will continue to draw strength from his legacy..
--Gwich'in Steering Committee
He was awarded the Goldman Environmental Prize in 2002, together with Norma Kassi and Sarah James. They received the prize for their struggles for protection of the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge from plans of oil exploration and drilling. Oil and gas exploration would disturb the life cycle of the Porcupine caribou, which has been a foundation for the Gwich'in culture for 20,000 years.
He founded the Gwichyaa Gwich'in Ginkhe', a non-profit organization in Fort Yukon in 1970, also known as the "three G's". The organization was dedicated to fighting the environmental destruction of the Yukon Flats, specifically the proposed Rampart Dam project which would have flooded the entire Yukon Flats and thus forcing the dislocation of the Gwich'in people. The project was halted.Wikipedia