Hartford, CT – On Thursday November 10, 2022, Gwich’in and Indigenous leaders and local activists gathered in downtown Hartford to support efforts to defend the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge from drilling. Organizers delivered more than 64,000 petition signatures urging the CEO of Travelers Insurance, Alan Schnitzer, to join other insurance companies across the globe in committing to not underwrite or insure oil and gas exploration in the Arctic Refuge. The coastal plain of the refuge is the calving grounds of the Porcupine caribou herd and sacred to Gwich’in people. In addition, the refuge is renowned for its vast array of wildlife, including animals like polar bears, wolves, moose and millions of migratory birds.
In a letter delivered to Travelers with the petitions, Gwich’in Steering Committee Executive Director Bernadette Demientieff said:
“The Arctic Refuge is known to the Gwich’in people as “Izhik Gwatsan Goodnaii Goodlit”(The Sacred Place Where Life Begins). The Gwich’in culture is intertwined with the Porcupine Caribou Herd, and we have been advocating not just for the caribou but for our lands and ways of life, which are all interconnected.”
Since the Arctic Refuge was opened to drilling in the 2017 Tax Act, these groups have been working to convince major banks and insurance companies to make commitments and issue policies that they will not finance or insure drilling in the refuge. The Gwich’in and their allies have met with and convinced six of the largest banks in the United States, the five largest banks in Canada, and 18 other international banks to issue policies against financing drilling in the Arctic Refuge. Seventeen international insurers have established similar policies, but to date no American insurer has issued a clear policy to protect the Arctic Refuge.
Representing Indigenous voices at the rally was Liz Marin of Seeding Sovereignty.
“Travelers, it's time you put policies in place that will be proactive, not responsive, not just to Mother Earth and her protection, but to the people who rely on her for survival, The First Nations and others, which happens to include you, your employees and their families too. Your contributions to climate chaos is putting all of humanity in danger, not just the Indigenous of these lands.”
Many members of the crowd were students from local campuses, representing the next generation of potential insurance industry employees. Speaking for campus activists was Romina Flores Diaz, a first-year student at University of Connecticut-Hartford.
“As a resident and student of Connecticut I am proud to participate in this campaign. My peers and I want insurance companies in Hartford to see that protecting the Arctic Refuge is important to college students. The Arctic Refuge is one of our last unspoiled places in the United States. Protecting the Porcupine caribou herd and the land sacred to the Gwich’in People outweighs any marginal economic gain.”
Tenaya Taylor, Executive Director of the Nonprofit Accountability Group speaking on behalf of the Hartford community told the activists gathered at the rally that,
"When we have been met with challenges we’ve learned that the best thing to do is come together to create solutions for each other. When the Arctic is under threat, we are all under threat. A better tomorrow means investing in people so they can breathe cleaner air, drink fresh water, and have access to biodiversity in their living environments. Protecting the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge is critical in protecting the wellbeing of our communities.”
Following the speakers, the attendees marched around Travelers Tower and Marin, accompanied by local organizers, delivered a letter from the Gwich’in Steering Committee and boxes containing the petition signatures to the company’s Hartford office.
The event was organized by a coalition led by the Gwich’in Steering Committee including Connecticut-based organizations Sierra Club Connecticut, Connecticut Citizen Action Group and Environment Connecticut.