About 50 people gathered in downtown Whitehorse on a rainy Friday to demonstrate opposition to U.S. plans to sell oil and gas leases in Alaksa's Arctic National Wildlife Refuge (ANWR).
Earlier this month, U.S. Secretary of the Interior David Bernhardt approved a leasing program for oil and gas development in the refuge's coastal plain.
The move is fiercely opposed by the Gwich'in Steering Committee along with Canadian and U.S. environmental groups, who argue that any drilling in the area will threaten wildlife, including the migrating Porcupine caribou herd.
Yukon Environment Minister Pauline Frost was among the demonstrators in Whitehorse on Friday. The territorial government has long opposed any drilling in ANWR.
Frost — who also represents the Vuntut Gwitchin riding as MLA — calls it a pivotal moment.
"Right now in our history, this is one of the most critical times that we've encountered, and the closest to development we have ever seen. And we want to ensure that we do what we can to stop that from happening," she said.
"It's important because as you can see from our settlement areas in north Yukon, we have protected every possible area that the caribou migrates to."
Over the last four decades, Republicans have attempted to open the refuge to drilling. President Bill Clinton vetoed a Republican bill to allow drilling in 1995, and Democrats blocked a similar plan 10 years later.
President Donald Trump insisted Congress include a mandate providing for leasing in the refuge in a 2017 tax bill.
Last week, the Gwich'in Steering Committee, along along with 12 other conservation groups, sued the U.S. Department of the Interior's Bureau of Land Management , saying the leasing program is illegal.
The government has 60 days to respond.