Film tour: “Welcome to Gwichyaa Zhee”

The coastal plain of the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge

For Alaska’s Gwich’in people, the coastal plain of the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge is a sacred place

Greg Balkin

Short movie screening across the Southwest

Native communities across the nation continue to see places they rely on for their way of life under threat by unwanted energy development. A new film putting a spotlight on the issue is now on tour across the Southwest.

For Alaska’s Gwich’in people, the coastal plain of the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge is “The Sacred Place Where Life Begins.” The land is the calving grounds for the Porcupine Caribou, considered the community’s spiritual and cultural lifeline. But the caribou would be directly hit by the opening of the Arctic Refuge to oil and gas drilling, as proposed by the Trump administration.

Four thousand miles down south, Native communities in the desert are also fighting for their land and identity. Their history and heritage are closely linked to Utah’s Bears Ears and Grand Staircase-Escalante national monuments. Both were sliced up by the federal government in 2017 to make room for energy development.

The short film “Welcome to Gwichyaa Zhee” by Len Necefer and Greg Balkin skillfully explores the connection of those threats through the stories and perspectives of the Diné (Navajo) and Gwich’in people. It soon becomes clear to viewers that these two communities are facing similar battles, and that they’re not alone in their struggles.

Through Sept. 8, the movie will be on tour across multiple Southwest cities in partnership with Natives Outdoors, a Native American owned outdoor apparel & media company. It’s an opportunity not only to celebrate America’s most wild and pristine lands but also to stand with the Gwich’in people to defend the Arctic Refuge for future generations.

Upcoming screening dates and times

Tucson, AZ 

When: Saturday, Aug. 31, 6-8 PM

Where: Tucson REI - 160 W Wetmore Rd, Tucson, AZ 85705


Phoenix (Chandler), AZ 

When: Sunday, Sept. 1, 3-5 PM

Where: Chandler REI - 870 N 54th St, Chandler, AZ 85226


Flagstaff, AZ

When: Monday, Sept. 2, 6:30-8PM

Where: Flagstaff Mountain Sports - 24 N San Francisco St, Flagstaff, AZ 86001


Las Vegas, NV

When: Friday, September 6, 6:30-8:30PM

Where: REI Las Vegas - 710 S Rampart Blvd, Las Vegas, NV 89145


Grand Junction, CO

When: Saturday, September 7, 4-6PM

Where: REI Grand Junction -925 Independent Ave, Grand Junction, CO 81505


Durango, CO

When: Monday, September 9, 6:30-8PM

Where: Animas City Theater - 128 E College Dr, Durango, CO 81301