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More Than Two Dozen Alaskan Native Villages Face Relocation
Friday, 21 October 2016 00:00 By Dahr Jamail, Truthout | Report
When President Barack Obama visited the tiny northern Alaskan coastal
village of Kotzebue in 2015, it brought international attention to the
fact that this Native community was directly threatened by anthropogenic
climate disruption (ACD).
The ground around the village is being eroded by intensifying storms,
melting ice and rising sea levels. "What's happening here is America's
wake-up call," Obama said during his visit. "It should be the world's
Twelve years prior to that, the US Government Accountability Office
(GAO) had released a report explaining that 6,600 miles of Alaska's
coastline were already subject to severe flooding and erosion, with 86
percent of Alaska Native villages already being impacted by flooding and
erosion at that time.
"Of the nine villages we were directed to review, four -- Kivalina,
Koyukuk, Newtok and Shishmaref -- are in imminent danger from flooding
and erosion and are planning to relocate," stated the GAO report from
2003. "While the remaining five are in various stages of responding to
Now, 12 years later, the problem has grown worse, and the attention and
funding necessary to move villages away from the coast has grown all the
A Growing Number
The tiny village of Kivalina, located on a thin barrier island in the
Chuckchi Sea and located 83 miles north of the Arctic Circle is
populated by 400 Iñupiat. It has garnered, perhaps, more media attention
than any other Alaskan village on the front lines of ACD, as exampled by
a Washington Post article from 2015, among numerous others.
In 2008 the village sued 24 fossil fuel companies for the destruction of
its homeland, but lost the case in federal court and has opted, thus
far, not to re-file the case in state court. Meanwhile, the village
people are well aware that they have less than a decade left before they
must relocate, becoming the latest of the US's first wave of climate
In 2003, the US Army Corps of Engineers identified 12 communities where
partial or complete relocation should be considered, and estimated costs
for doing so that would run into the hundreds of millions of dollars for
each individual village.
In 2015 President Obama asked Congress for $400 million for Alaskan
village relocation, an amount of money that is obviously far from
approaching what will be required.
Other villages that are facing the reality of relocation include
Shaktoolik, where, for now, the locals are trying to stay put while
aiming to protect themselves from floods and storms with coastal
barriers; and Newtok, where the ACD-caused disintegration has been
extensively documented (see images of the impacts here). There's also
Sarichef Island, a four-mile stretch of land off the Alaskan coast,
which contains Shishmaref, a village that already voted to relocate its
ancestral home to safer ground -- but has not yet managed to do so due
to lack of funding and the absence of a replacement location. These are
just a few of the many communities currently considering relocation.
A recent study coined the term "climigration" to identify the phenomenon
facing these Alaskan villages. In particular, the Alaskan regions of the
North Slope, the Northwestern Arctic and the Bering Strait have all
received media attention due to the obvious ACD impacts that are causing
villages in those regions to start looking seriously at relocating.
Yet it's not just the far north that's impacted: The Yukon/Kuskokwim
Delta, a vast lowland area of southwestern Alaska that encompasses
75,000 square miles and contains just over 24,000 people, is becoming
increasingly vulnerable to flooding due to sea level rise, erosion,
flooding from rivers and storms. It, too, is on the proverbial chopping
block as ACD impacts continue to increase and "climigration" likely
becomes commonplace across that region as well. Of course, in the coming
years and decades, "climigration" will become a reality for an
increasing number of us -- even those who do not live in the far north.
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