Alaska National Wildlife Refuge

No oil production in the unique nature reserve! (Press Release)

Yesterday, the newly sworn-in US President Joe Biden issued a decree stating that it will not be allowed to drill for oil in the highly sensitive Alaska National Wildlife Refuge (ANWR). His predecessor in office, Donald Trump, had auctioned off concessions shortly before leaving office.

"There are large oil deposits in the ANWR, but the refuge is also home to the Porcupine caribou herd, the largest free-ranging caribou herd in North America," stated Yvonne Bangert, indigenous peoples expert at the Society for Threatened Peoples (STP). Thus, the indigenous Gwich'in (who live from hunting the caribou) and various environmental protection organizations have been running up a storm against oil production in the unique natural reserve for years. President Obama had placed the area under protection. "Now, Biden is planning to restore this status," Bangert said. "Obviously, he is serious about his commitment towards climate and nature protection – and about respecting the rights of the indigenous communities. This is also reflected by his decision to stop the construction of the wall along the border with Mexico. There are more than 25 officially recognized Native nations living in the border region between Mexico and Texas – often on both sides of the border." Their territories are much older than Mexico and the United States, and many of the Nations have been fighting against the construction of the wall.

According to Bangert, the Trump administration violated a number of US laws, including the Native American Graves Protection and Repatriation Act, the American Indian Religious Freedom Act, and the Religious Freedom Restoration Act. As a result, the Kumeyaay, an association of several indigenous groups living on both sides of the border in California and Mexico, sued the federal government for failing to adequately involve the Native nations before construction began and for unlawfully taking the budget for construction from the defense budget. Their lawsuit was dismissed.

Meanwhile, other indigenous concerns in the US are still awaiting enforcement. The Tohono O'odham, who live further east in Arizona and Mexico, are fighting to protect Quitobaquito Springs, a surface water reserve in the desert region.

Biden has also withdrawn the approval of the highly controversial Keystone XL pipeline, which would have crossed indigenous lands. The construction of the controversial Dakota Access Pipeline on indigenous lands, on the other hand, is still continuing.