Climate Change in the sub-Arctic

Alaska Native villages at risk of losing homes to rising sea levels, erosion, and thawing permafrost.


Credit: Alaska Science Center USGS

I choose this topic to write as my first blog post because it’s something near and dear to my heart. Many native cultures, including my own, have sacred ties to the land in which we inhabit. My ancestral home, the home of the first peoples to discover the Americas is being lost to the sea faster than we ever did to the US Federal Government.

Climate-deniers say warming is a natural process, something that humans have no part in, but there is no doubt within the scientific community that the increased use of dirty fuel sources has indeed contributed to warmer temperatures. Data doesn’t lie.

Global temperature change 1850-2016

Credit: Climate-Lab-Book

It is criminally irresponsible for any public official, let alone the President of the United States to ignore the real dangers that American citizens are facing due to climate change. Without proper action, our homes and our way of life will be lost in less than a century.

As a way of highlighting the imminent danger facing Alaska Native villages along the coast, I’m hoping to continue pursuing this particular piece for professional publication. If your home is at risk due to rising sea levels and melting permafrost, please feel free to contact me to contribute with photos and stories of your experience. The only way we will be able to prevent the loss of our traditional way of living is to raise awareness in mainstream media, and to do that we must document everything we’re losing before it’s gone.

Clark’s Point, AK

Contribution by: Samuel Clark

My lifelong home Clark’s Point, known to the Yup’ik as Saguyaq, was a thriving fishing community long before European-contact. Yup’ik peoples living along the Nushagak (Iilgayaq) River would make the journey downstream and occupy summer homes near the seemingly infinite food source: fresh, delicious, and plentiful Alaskan salmon. The little spit of land would later become a fishing cannery and successful trading post site after my adoptive great-grandfather (and namesake for the town), John W. Clark set out to be the first non-native settler in the area. Today, the derelict cannery (still for-sale and owned by Trident Seafoods) has begun to rot due to not having been used in almost twenty years. The tundra immediately surrounding the cannery is littered with debris, and sheet metal used for roofing now flies off piece by piece whenever a strong wind comes by.

When the cannery was operational the town would surge to a population of over 500 during the summer and rested around 100 year round. Diesel engines are used to power the town and have been around for longer than I remember. These dirty forms of energy are cheap and readily available as the only source of electricity for many villages. With such a small demand for energy, Alaska Native villages (as well as Indian reservations across the country) are in a unique position to be on the forefront of self-sufficient clean energy production.

The major issue, however, doesn’t come from our use of dirty energy, it comes from the rest of the industrialized world. The carbon footprint of native peoples are some of the smallest and despite that, we are facing loss on a much larger scale than anyone else. Floods have been common in my hometown since the 70’s as a part of global extreme weather patterns, and the rising sea levels due to melting glaciers have only exacerbated the problem.



Credits: Erin McKittrick

A (long abandoned) home my father lived in as a kid, 40 years ago this would have been yards from the shoreline. Now, the entire western half of the building is exposed to the frequent bombardment of waves.


Credit: Erin McKittrick

Our traditional graveyard in which the great-grandparents of our people have been laid to rest. Now only feet from the ocean, the graves will soon become exposed, and possibly washed away. If nothing is done soon it would be a grave injustice done to our ancestors.

All is not lost with the rising seas however. Starting about 50 years ago when the problem became apparent to my people, we began building our homes and infrastructure to higher ground. Most of our homes, our school, and our post office have all been moved to locations above the bluff. There are still a few holdouts who live along the coastline and have taken it upon themselves create gravel walls along the beach to keep the waves back. Many residents also still have traditional smokehouses along the coast for preparing fish as our ancestors have done for countless generations. Every few years, someone loses their smokehouse to the ocean but it is nothing compared to the loss of your childhood homes. Smokehouses can be rebuilt but memories may be lost forever.

Categories: Activism, Environment

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