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Achievement In: Environmental Activism
Sarah James, as board chair and a spokesperson for the Gwich’in Steering Committee, has educated Alaskans, other Americans, Congress and peoples from around the world about the Gwich’in Nation, the Porcupine Caribou Herd and the importance of protecting “the Sacred Place where Life Begins” from oil exploration and drilling. The goal of the Gwich’in is to permanently protect the coastal plain calving and nursing grounds of the caribou in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge as wilderness. Raised in Alaska’s far north in a traditional lifestyle, she did not begin speaking English until she was 13 years old. Living in the small community of Arctic Village, she has traveled widely, from Washington, D.C. to foreign countries, speaking out for the rights of indigenous peoples through grassroots activism.
In recognition of her leadership, she has received many awards. In 1993 Sarah received the Alston Bannerman Fellowship award. In 2001, she received a Ford Foundation “Leadership for a Changing World” grant given to “outstanding but little known leaders”. She, along with the late Jonathon Solomon Sr. and Norma Kassi, received the Goldman Environmental Prize for “grassroots environmentalists” in 2002. Sarah also received the 2002 National Conservation Land Trust award. In 2004, she was the recipient of the “Ecotrust Award for Indigenous Leadership” and she received the 2006 Alaska Conservation Foundation “Celia Hunter Award”. Sarah is very thankful for the support of the Gwich’in Nation, her community, her son and her family. She credits the the hard work of the Gwich’in and other people throughout the United States and the world as having greatly contributed to her successful efforts.
She was taught by her mother that there has to be a mutual respect between men and women for a healthy life. The impetus for her activism and the strength of her convictions may be best summarized in her own words, spoken in 2006: “This is my way of life. We are born with this way of life and we will die with it. It never occurred to me that something had to wake me up to do this. Nothing magic happened to me. Our life depends on it. It’s about survival; it’s something that we have to protect in order to survive. It’s our responsibility. It’s the environment we live in. We believe everything is related”.
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