Jonathon Solomon, 74; Native American Leader Fought Arctic Drilling

From Times Staff and Wire Reports

Jonathon Solomon, 74, a Native American tribal leader who for decades helped lead the fight to keep oil drilling out of the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge, died Thursday at the Alaska Native Medical Center in Anchorage. The cause of death was not reported.

Solomon was drawn into the political arena in the 1960s when he fought a proposal to dam the Yukon River, a project that would have flooded 10 old Athabascan villages on the Yukon Flats, said Luci Beach, executive director of the Gwich’in Steering Committee, representing about 8,000 members of the Gwich’in Nation in Canada and northeast Alaska.

His fight to keep drilling from the coastal plain of ANWR and protect a caribou herd dated to the 1970s. The coastal plain is the calving area for the herd of 130,000 animals. Solomon strongly believed that the future of the Gwich’in people was dependent on the herd’s welfare.

In the mid-1980s, Canada and the United States reached an agreement to protect the herd. Solomon was a key negotiator of the agreement.


Solomon was born March 10, 1932, in Fort Yukon, Alaska, and was chosen to be a future tribal leader while still a child. He left school at age 10 to work as a trapper with his father and was sent to various Gwich’in villages to learn the tribe’s culture.