Field Notes
U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service
Field Notes Entry   
YUKON FLATS: Gwich'in Gather in Beaver
Alaska Region, June 29, 2004
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The population of Beaver, Alaska, more than tripled recently when the village hosted the biennial gathering of the Gwich'in Nation. This Yukon River village of approximately 80 people, which is surrounded by the Yukon Flats National Wildlife Refuge, saw the results of a year-long planning effort come to fruition as visitors began arriving from as far away as Old Crow, Yukon Territory. Estimates on attendance at the gathering ranged from 200+ (Gwich'in Steering Committee) to nearly 500 (Beaver Tribal Council).

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service entered a $7,000 challenge cost share agreement with the Beaver Tribal Council. Most of this funding was used to help with the logistical expenses of getting supplies and people to Beaver. In return, the Beaver Tribal Council provided the Service with the opportunity to have an information booth directly across from the main meeting tent. Service staff from the Yukon Flats and Arctic National Wildlife Refuges and the Fairbanks Fish and Wildlife Field Office participated in the 3-day event, distributing informational material, conducting games and activities with the children, and attending the discussion sessions.

The opening ceremony included a welcome dance by residents of Beaver and Stevens Village and invocation by Rev. Trimble Gilbert of Arctic Village. During the days, meetings focused on topics such as the continuation of subsistence lifestyles, fish and wildlife populations, water quality in the Yukon River, and social issues. Communal "potlatch" meals followed cultural traditions of serving elders first. Lunch-time breaks provided opportunities for the villages to feature performances of their dance groups, clad in traditional clothing. After dinner, the dance floor was swept, the musicians tuned their fiddles and guitars, and participants enjoyed square dancing, two-stepping, and jigging long into the night.

The purpose of the Gathering is to provide a forum for members of the Gwich'in Nation, which is composed of about 7,000 members living in 15 villages. This biennial gathering was revived in 1988 following an almost 100-year hiatus. This revival was based on a recognition of the need for improved cultural and spiritual awareness, across international boundaries, and was partially prompted by Congressional deliberations on opening the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge's coastal plain to oil and gas development and potential impacts to the Porcupine Caribou Herd.

Contact Info: Kristen Gilbert, 907-786-3391, Kristen_Gilbert@fws.gov
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