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Protect the People

Reno/Tahoe rallies against Arctic drilling
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Something that has happened to me — as I have been working on sustainability issues for half my life — is the realization that if you want to protect a place, you have to protect the people. For some, this is nothing new. For others, this is groundbreaking, and for many environmentalists, this sounds downright backward.

The Arctic Refuge has been a land in contention for years. Known by many as “the last great wilderness,” its wild beauty has called to ecologists, scientists, and wilderness junkies for decades. It wasn’t until 1988 when the Gwich’in Nation, those native to the land, felt compelled to gather as a tribe for the first time in more than 100 years when they heard that oil companies were planning to make their way into the refuge to explore, drill, and extract whatever petroleum resources they could.

Alarmed that their home was under threat, concerned that this action would impact the porcupine caribou herd, a species central to the cultural and spiritual traditions of the tribe, folks gathered to mobilize a plan.

They are still fighting.

Again, it’s the people who matter. People connected to their home, who have an attachment to a place enough to inform a sense of community, and while Arctic Village, home to the Gwich’in people, is thousands of miles from Truckee/Tahoe, the two communities share a common vein in believing that protecting our people is essential to protecting a place.

This mutual care and respect was most recently seen on Oct. 25, a national day of action to protect the Arctic Refuge. Locally, roughly 20 protestors gathered outside Nevada senator Dean Heller’s Reno office. Heller voted for a budget resolution that opens the doors for drilling on the Arctic Refuge’s coastal plain. President Trump reopened the possibility of drilling in the Arctic by including a provision in the proposed 2018 budget recently sent to Congress to be voted on by the end of the year. We are fighting to have this drilling taken out of the budget.

If you ask the Gwich’in what is most important to them, it’s to permanently protect the Arctic Refuge. For the land, for the caribou, for the tribe, nothing is more essential. The earth teaches us that adapting to change is crucial, whether we as a species like it or not. The current crux that exacerbates an inability to fluidly adapt, whether we’re talking about affordable housing in Tahoe, climate change, or the institutionalized racism found in modern statues, is the commodification of environment and community. In the Arctic Refuge, the perpetual question is if energy reserves were not believed to exist offshore or underground, would anybody bother to potentially cause irreparable, irreversible damage to the land, water, and diverse species that call it home?

At the recent Creating Equilibrium event held in Squaw Valley, those of us lucky enough to attend the talk by elder eco-statesmen David Suzuki heard what I felt was one of the more simplistic, yet compelling offerings of the inspiring three-day event. He spoke about value, and how difficult it is in modern times to remind oneself that the economy is but a social construct. It’s treated as a living entity, yet it’s only a human-created system that through the power of politics runs the world. If only the value of people were placed in a high order, or at least in a horizontal hierarchy so that it were more balanced, perhaps the shift needed to break humans out of the current epoch now known as the Anthropocene would be realized. The home of this modern era was coined as we now live in an age where humans have altered the earth to such a degree it warrants its own classification.

In October, several of my past Sierra Nevada College students and I traveled to Denver for a special activist training, sponsored and hosted by the Sierra Club. Action comes in many forms. As advocates for the Arctic Refuge patiently wait for how the current administration will play with Alaskan senators who both hope to drill in the area, now more than ever is the time to see that many of our issues in Tahoe intersect with those outside of our home.

If you want to keep Tahoe blue, you should want people to have access to affordable housing in Tahoe, just as much as you should want the pristine landscape of the Arctic Refuge to be protected. People still travel every day to see Emerald Bay, and they’re amazed, inspired, even brought to tears by its beauty. The same happens to visitors to the Arctic Refuge. Up north, it’s just home for the Gwich’in. And down here, it’s just home to us.

We’re both people of the mountains, and to all humans, a home is worth protecting. Whether it’s a petition this fall to support the Arctic Refuge, or efforts to alleviate the housing issues in the Basin, I hope you will connect the dots, locate the opportunity in living through a presidency that reaffirms oppression and domination on so many levels, and realize many of our struggles are one and the same.

If you’d like to get involved you can contact Brennan Legasse ( or Rachael Blum (

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December 13, 2018