People and the Refuge: The Gwich’in

The Gwich’in people have lived in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge region spanning from Alaska to Canada for hundreds of generations. The word “Gwich’in” means “people of the land,” and their lives and culture have become inseparable from the fate of the Porcupine Caribou Herd. The Gwich’in people and rely on caribou as their chief food source, as well as for clothing, tools and ornaments, and as a central fixture of their culture.

In Alaska, the Gwich’in reside in nine communities: Arctic Village, Beaver, Birch Creek, Canyon Village, Chalkyitsik, Circle, Eagle Village, Fort Yukon and Venetie. For thousands of years, the Gwich’in people have regarded the Coastal Plain of the Arctic Refuge as “Iizhik Gwats’an Gwandaii Goodlit” or “The Sacred Place Where Life Begins,” because it has been the most frequently used birthing and nursery grounds for the Porcupine Caribou Herd. The Porcupine Caribou Herd is the foundation for the social, economic and spiritual fabric of the lives of the Gwich’in people.