Indigenous tribes facing displacement in Alaska, Louisiana say US ignores climate threats


WASHINGTON — About 31 native Alaska communities face imminent climate displacement from flooding and erosion, which could lead to the loss of crops and transformation of lifestyles, with four tribes already moving of their rapidly disappearing villages.

The Kivalina, Shishmaref, Shaktoolik and Newtok, as well as the coastal tribes of Louisiana, are among the most at risk of displacement due to climate change. But their efforts to relocate, according to tribal leaders, have been hampered by a lack of federal programs to help with their resettlement.

While there is no specialized federal program to help with resettlement efforts, the Federal Emergency Management Agency and the Department of Housing and Urban Development can help with specific projects like construction funding or affordable housing.

According to the Government Accountability Office, native Alaska villages often do not qualify for FEMA programs because they do not have approved disaster mitigation plans or have not been declared federal disaster areas. Many Indigenous villages are not eligible for HUD relocation assistance because federal law does not recognize Unincorporated Indigenous Villages in the Unorganized Borough of Alaska as eligible units of local government. general. But the unorganized borough, which includes parts of the state that are not part of any of its 19 organized boroughs, encompasses nearly half of Alaska’s land mass.

Five tribes in Alaska and Louisiana, including the indigenous village of Kivalina, filed a complaint in 2020 with the United Nations that the US government is violating their human rights by failing to address the impacts of climate change that are forcing their displacement. , putting them in existential danger.

Inaction in the face of climate change has resulted in the separation of communities and the loss of their ancestral lands, sacred burial sites, cultural traditions, heritage and livelihoods, according to the complaint. While the government has known for decades that climate change threatens coastal tribes, it has not allocated resources to support tribal community-led adaptation efforts, according to the complaint.

“Despite their geographic differences, the tribes of Louisiana and Alaska face similar human rights violations due to the failure of the US government to protect, promote and respect each tribe’s right to l ‘self-determination to protect tribal members from climate impacts,’ the complaint mentioned.

The small coastal village of Newtok, 500 miles west of Anchorage on the Ninglick River near the Bering Sea, began to move in 2019 due to shoreline erosion from thawing permafrost and the storm surges, an ongoing project for over 20 years.

The village’s 400 residents voted in 2003 to move to Mertarvik, a village nine miles away, but only 140 have moved so far. The relocation of the village is expected to be completed by 2023 at a cost of around $ 130 million to the federal and state governments, according to an estimate by the Army Corps of Engineers.

Kivalina, on a coastal barrier island 625 miles northwest of Anchorage, could be extinct by 2025. In the early 1990s, tribesmen like Colleen Swan began to notice changes in patterns of migration of bearded seals and the whales they live on, as well as warmer temperatures and reduced sea ice.

“Our earth started to erode very quickly, right in front of our eyes,” she said.

While the Army Corps of Engineers built a rock cover to stop erosion in 2008, this did not address the rise in sea level. The ice surrounding the island melted and was not there to cushion the autumn sea storms coming from the south.

The people of Kivalina have started planning to move their coral island to the mainland, but do not have enough money to implement a relocation. Relocating Kivalina’s 400 residents elsewhere has been estimated at a cost of up to $ 1 million per villager. Swan said she was concerned that if the federal government is in charge, it will make decisions without the tribe’s input.

“When you know what you want and what you need as a local leader, it is a problem for them,” she said. “We are supposed to be powerless and dependent on the government.

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The federal government is focused on tackling the long-term impacts of climate change rather than helping communities like its own to solve existing problems, Swan said.

Federal, state and village authorities have yet to identify sustainable resettlement sites for Kivalina, Shishmaref and Shaktoolik.

Joel Neimeyer, former co-chair of the Denali Commission, a federal agency that has coordinated since 2015 the relocation of rural Alaskan villages threatened by climate change, said Congress had failed to provide tools to develop effective solutions disaster mitigation. He suggests that the administration use part of its infrastructure plan for practical adaptation and disaster mitigation for tribal communities at risk of displacement due to climate change.

In addition to the need to relocate the tribes from Alaska and Louisiana, two federally recognized Florida tribes, the Seminole and Miccosukee tribes, face an uncertain future due to the rising level of the Wed In Washington State, the Quinault Indian Nation of the village of Taholah has already developed resettlement plans.

On Louisiana’s Jean Charles Island, a rapidly sinking Native American community about 80 miles southwest of New Orleans, Hurricane Ida demolished the few remaining homes in late August, leaving many residents in limbo.


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