First U.S. Climate Refugees Fear Rising Seas Will Drown Their Heritage

By Renee Lewis / Source

RISING SEAS DUE to climate change are forcing the relocation of Native American coastal communities from Louisiana to Alaska, and tribal leaders say they are worried that their traditional lifestyles may not survive resettlement.

Last week, residents of Shishmaref, an Iñupiaq village in Alaska, voted to leave their disappearing island and relocate to the mainland. But it was a close vote, and many residents are opposed to leaving.

“I don’t wish to move away from this island. It’s been our home since my grandparents and other ancestors lived here,” Shishmaref city council president Johnson Eningowuk told News Deeply before the vote took place. “We always hunted from the ocean – our lifestyle is going to have to change if we move to the mainland,” he said.

Yet Shishmaref is eroding into the Chukchi Sea, a change Eningowuk blames on rising sea levels and the melting of sea ice that had protected their shores from storm surges.

Climate change is also making it harder for the village’s 600 residents to make their livelihoods from hunting and gathering – the permafrost is melting, and the summer season without sea ice is lasting longer and longer, Eningowuk said. Some residents, especially the youth, have already begun to move to the cities.

Shishmaref is just one of many Native American communities around the U.S. that have begun planning moves to higher ground – a process that requires community consensus, careful planning with state and federal authorities, and millions of dollars.

Read more on News Deeply

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