Hawaii UCC works to protect lands of indigenous Alaskan Natives
Written by Emily Schappacher
January 17, 2014
The Arctic is one of the world's last remaining pristine ecosystems, and it's currently being threatened by oil production and mining exploration. For the past 15 years, Honolulu's Church of the Crossroads United Church of Christ has worked with other UCC and interfaith groups to help the Gwich'in and Inupiat Alaskan Natives protect their lands and lifestyles from destruction.
But as U.S. oil production reaches historic highs and the country moves toward energy independence, protecting the sacred lands of these indigenous groups is more important than ever before.
"Their culture, spirituality and their kinship to nature all evolved from the landscape they live in," said Chuck Burrows, chair of the Greening Congregation team and the Peace, Justice and Stewardship of Creation team at Church of the Crossroads. "This is a sacred place, a refuge, where they believe life begins."
On Jan. 23, Church of the Crossroads will invite its members and the community to an event to bring awareness to the plight of Alaska's indigenous people. The event will include the screenings of two films, "Gwich'in Women Speak" and "Oil on Ice," and a panel discussion with Gwich'in leader Adeline Peter Raboff, film producer Miho Aida, and Inupiaq Eskimo and environmental activist Robert Thompson who will speak from Katovik, Alaska, via Skype. Attendees will also be asked to sign a petition calling for President Barack Obama to protect the Arctic Wildlife Refuge and the Arctic Ocean from oil drilling and to stop production of the Keystone XL Pipeline.
"This request comes from the religious and indigenous perspective," Burrows said. "We are asking President Obama to use his indicative powers to take action to prevent oil drilling in the Arctic Refuge by designating it a wilderness area."
Burrows expects 150 to 200 people from his congregation, the community, and other faith and environmental groups to attend the event. While the films and panel discussions are necessary to educate and inform, Burrows says the biggest changes come from action, such as signing the petition for the president. He cites former Vice President Al Gore, who said that global warming is no longer a political, economic or even an environmental issue – it is a moral issue. And Burrows thinks the only way to begin to repair the damage and to get the earth back on a sustainable track is for people to change their moral behavior.
"Overall, the message is that climate change is real and we need to reduce our carbon footprint that increases the greenhouse gasses," Burrows said. "This is important. It's going to take a long time and it will mean a change in our consumer lifestyles. It's not going to be easy, but the only way we believe the consumer lifestyles can be changed is though one's faith. It has to come from within an individual."