[Episcopal Public Policy Network] So is this great and wide sea, wherein are things creeping innumerable, both small and great beasts. There go the ships: there is that leviathan, whom thou hast made to play therein. These wait all upon thee; that thou mayest give them their meat in due season. That thou givest them they gather: thou openest thine hand, they are filled with good. Thou hidest thy face, they are troubled: thou takest away their breath, they die, and return to their dust. Thou sendest forth thy spirit, they are created: and thou renewest the face of the earth. -Psalms 104: 25-30
Considering that nearly half the world –over three billion people –live on less than $2.50 USD a day, the vastness of global poverty can seem overwhelming. Why should we seek to confront any other problem before we have successfully ended the terrible behemoth of poverty in our time?
Certainly, poverty is an imperative challenge that our faith calls us to address. At the same time, it is important that we do not solely focus on the human elements of this issue without contextualizing human need in the vast and intricate natural world that God has provided for us to steward and enjoy. Poverty and creation care are inextricably linked, and rather than competing causes, these issues should be addressed together and holistically.
Coal country presents us with such an opportunity. The coal industry is one of the primary sources of carbon dioxide emissions in the United States, and a leading contributor to air pollution. At the same time, hardworking men and women have labored in the coalmines for generations and rely upon these jobs to provide for their families.
Addressing the environmental degradation of the coal industry without harming the people who depend upon it is a massive challenge, yet it is not insurmountable. For example, legislators can create incentives for renewable energy production such as wind and solar that offer viable employment options for coal industry workers. Renewable energy production is an environmentally sound alternative to coal that can help to mitigate the impacts of climate change while stimulating the local economy.
Another community whose welfare is intrinsically linked to the environment is the Gwich’in people of Alaska. The Gwich’in, the majority of whom are Episcopalian, live in remote villages above the Arctic Circle and hunt the Porcupine caribou herd to provide food for their families. Oil extraction on the Coastal Plain of the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge would significantly affect the birthing success of the caribou, diminishing herd numbers and irreparably altering the Gwich’in way of life. Fossil fuel extraction has the potential to impoverish this native Alaskan people through robbing them of their subsistence lifestyle.
The Udall-Eisenhower Arctic Wilderness Act (HR 239) is a bill in the United States House of Representatives that would designate the Coastal Plain of the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge as Wilderness. HR 239 would ensure that the Coastal Plain is permanently protected from oil drilling so that future generations of Gwich’in can continue to hunt the caribou as their ancestors for generations before. In January of this year, President Obama called upon Congress to permanently protect the Coastal Plain, and now it’s time for Congress to act.
While many of us do not live a subsistence lifestyle or work in the mines of coal country, we all depend upon the land for our food, our water, and our shelter. The earth is our great wealth, and God has entrusted us to steward it accordingly. To effectively address poverty, we must also conserve and nourish the environment that sustains us. All things belong to God; let us work together to make the earth and its people whole.
My name is Allan Hayton, my Athabascan name is Ditòn. I am Gwich’in and Koyukon on my mother’s side, and Scottish & Irish on my father’s side, however both sides of my family are Episcopal going back generations. I grew up in Arctic Village, Alaska on the Venetie Indian Reservation. Every Sunday we would pray and sing in Bishop Rowe Chapel in our Gwich’in language, and our tables were filled with bounty from the land, especially caribou, our primary sustenance. It is a remote community for the rest of the world, but for me it is the place nearest to my heart.
When I reflect on my Athabascan ancestors, I am always in awe of their reliance on an intimate knowledge of the land, of the animals and proper relationship to the world around them. It is a way of life passed down through generations that Gwich’in people call Dinjii Zhuh K’yaa. The closest way to explain this term is as a spiritual relationship and practice.
Gwintł’ee’adaachii is how the animals give themselves to us for our survival, with the nourishment, clothing, tools, and a spiritual life that is a connection to all living things. In return, we must show them utmost respect and care. We must take only what we need, use all we take, and share with everyone. If we fail to respect the land and animals that provide for us, we upset the balance, and our own survival will be placed in jeopardy.
For this reason, and for our ancient way of life, Gwich’in have been opposed to oil development within the calving grounds of the Porcupine Caribou Herd within the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge. The caribou has sustained our people for countless generations and will continue to do so far into the future, if we can respect the balance. We are grateful to The Episcopal Church for standing with us in protecting this sacred trust for future generations. Mahsi’ choo!
Take action to protect the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge by urging your members of Congress to support the Udall-Eisenhower Arctic Wilderness Act (HR 239). Go here.
Engage in envionmental action by participating in the Domestic and Foreign Missionary Society’s 30 Days of Action on Climate. Join here.
Watch The Climate Change Crisis forum hosted by the Domestic and Foreign Missionary Society and the Diocese of Los Angeles 3/24 here.
Share a ministry your church has that engages environmental stewardship on Mission Centered, an online community for Episcopal mission.
That it may please thee to look with favor upon all who care for the earth, the water, and the air, that the riches of thy creation may abound from age to age,
We beseech thee to hear us, good Lord.
-The Book of Occasional Services, Rogation Procession
This is the sixth installment of the Episcopal Public Policy Network’s 2015 Lenten Series: “Engaging Poverty at Home and Around the World.” To view previous reflections, click here. To receive these reflections to your inbox each Wednesday of Lent, sign up here.