Our Hero of the Week: Bernadette Demientieff, ED of the Gwich’in Steering Committee
Bernadette Demientieff, Gwich’in Steering Committee
This week there was a momentous piece of good news for conservation — one of the largest and most powerful and influential U.S. banks, Goldman Sachs, said it will not fund projects that drill for oil and gas in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge. This is huge — between 2016 and 2018, Goldman Sachs invested $59 billion in fossil fuels, the industry’s 12th biggest banker. The Gwich’in Tribe has been working on changing minds about drilling in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge since 2018 — Bernadette and other leaders met with officials from JPMorgan Chase, Barclays, Goldman Sachs, Bank of America, Morgan Stanley, Credit Suisse, UBS, and Citi to explain the risks financing oil and gas exploration there would pose. And this week Goldman Sachs sided with the Tribe.
She also took her arguments straight into the heart of the fossil fuel industry. In an op/ed in the Houston Chronicle last summer she wrote:
“The Arctic Refuge is not just a piece of land with oil underneath. It’s the heart of my people and our food security, our way of life, and our very survival depends on its protection. It’s time for ConocoPhillips to publicly affirm that they take the concerns of the Gwich’in Nation and the millions of Americans who stand with us seriously and that they will not drill on our sacred lands.”
Sierra Club and the Rainforest Action Network supported the Tribe’s efforts, but when it came to leading the charge, Bernadette led the way and gave voice to the rights of her people, and indigenous people everywhere. And for that, she is our hero.