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Gwitchin leader Joe Linklater
"Really it has to do with our cultural identity"
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Wednesday, 11 April, 2001, 05:37 GMT 06:37 UK
Opposition grows to Alaska oil drill
The Gwichin depend on the caribou as a source of food
Caribou go to the refuge to calve each summer
Pressure is growing on Canadian Prime Minister Jean Chretien to oppose US President George W Bush's plans to drill for oil in a wildlife refuge in Alaska.

You, President Bush, back off from the Arctic refuge

Former Canadian PM John Turner
The pressure is coming from representatives of the World Wildlife Fund, leaders of the native Gwichin people and a former Canadian Prime Minister, John Turner - all gathered in the Canadian territory of Yukon, which neighbours Alaska.

The Alaskan National Wildlife Refuge is one of the world's last untouched ecosystems and caribou herds migrate there to calve each summer.

Energy shortage

The refuge is also believed to contain enough oil to provide thousands of millions of barrels to help alleviate the US energy shortage.

But a Gwichin leader, Joe Linklater, told the BBC that the oil extracted from the region would only last around six months.

Dick Cheney
Cheney: Environmental criticisms unfounded
"What we are talking about here is that any oil company that goes in there is going in simply for the profit," he said.

"If that's the case, why not leave it as it is, and leave it for future generations to enjoy."

He said that his people depended on the caribou as a source of food and clothing, but would lose their cultural identity if the herds abandoned the area because of US oil exploration.

Summit issue

Mr Turner, a Liberal prime minister in the 1980s, said he wanted Mr Chretien to raise the issue with Mr Bush at the Summit of the Americas, to be held later this month in Quebec City.

"We think that it would be a great occasion for the prime minister... to say, if we want a continental energy policy, let's make it environmentally sound and you, President Bush, back off from the Arctic refuge," he said.

Last weekend, Vice-President Dick Cheney reiterated plans to open up the refuge to oil exploration.

He said that environmental criticisms were unfounded because less than 1,000 hectares would be affected.

But last week the United States National Wildlife Federation also condemned the US Government's drilling plans.

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