The Cross and the Caribou

Reverend Trimble Gilbert is the chief and minister to a tribe of 150 Gwich`in people on the land of the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge, which the Bush Administration is presently trying to open up for oil drilling.

The drilling would disrupt the migration of the Caribou herds the Gwich`in depend on to survive and would destroy the birthing grounds of the caribou herds where the lichen the caribou feed on grows.

About 7,000 of the natives, a group called the Athabascan, live in the region.

For no pay, Rev. Gilbert has been ministering throughout the region for thirty years.

Gilbert and executive director of Restoring Eden, Peter Illyn, spoke to students in the Gough Great Room February 23.

Gilbert is traveling with Illyn and the Gwich`in Steering Committee to protest the Senate’s attempt to attach the Arctic drilling provision to a Defense bill.

“We’re all Christian people living on this region here,” Gilbert said, pointing to the northeast portion of a map of Alaska.

“Even the little kids, they know caribou, they grew up with it… many little kids help me to do the service,” Gilbert said. “That’s a good sign for me they want to live here, forever, if possible.”

An oil pipeline coming down from the north and crossing the Yukon river has made its water undrinkable. Over two decades, the number of caribou in the region has fallen from 170,000 to 120,000.

Some natives try to leave the region and go into the city, but, Gilbert said, this has led to an increase in alcohol and drug use.

“I don’t think they move away into the city so much, but then they’re always coming back, ’cause they’re having troubles, so when they get back… to normal life again, the church is there.”

Gilbert said that over the years, he has come to minister at an increasing number of funerals. “Sometimes I bury a father and a son,” he said.

Illyn also pointed out the connections between what happens to the environment and what happens to humanity.

Though God gave mankind stewardship, he is the Creator and owner of Creation. This relational worldview counters the common utilitarian worldview that does not look to the care of God’s creation but only ahead to heaven.

“I believe God takes pleasure when we love what God called good,” Illyn said. “I’m not going to tell you that this is the most important conversation for Christians, but it might be that We’ve neglected it for so long that it has become one of the more important.”

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