Tribal leaders, federal agencies meet on impacts of climate change

Tribal leaders, federal agencies meet on impacts of climate change
Published: Sep. 19, 2023 at 9:33 PM AKDT
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ANCHORAGE, Alaska (KTUU) - Tribal leaders and members from 10 Alaska Native communities gathered in Anchorage this week for a three-day conference with multiple federal agencies to help them prepare for, respond to and recover from the impacts of climate change.

Community relocation is among several topics on the agenda at the conference, which runs through Wednesday at the Marriott and Dena’ina Center in Downtown Anchorage. The event is supported by the Alaska Institute for Justice and Permafrost Pathways. Together, the two organizations back climate adaptation efforts in places like Akiak, Akiachak, Chevak, Golovin, Kwethluk, Kwigillingok, Quinhagak, Nelson Lagoon, Nunapitchuk and Kipnuk.

“2023 has shown all too clearly that climate change is here with the intensifying and unique impacts on the environment. Our support at Alaska Institute for Justice to ten rural Alaska Native Tribes is positioned to deliver on climate adaptation objectives together while protecting the human rights of Alaskans and building a more sustainable, safe and resilient future,” AIJ Executive Director Robin Bronen said in a statement.

There are more than 10 Alaska Native tribes that have had to take at least some relocation measures because of environmental impacts to their communities, such as flooding and damage to shorelines, according to Victoria Salinas, a senior official performing the duties of deputy administrator for the Federal Emergency Management Agency.

The tribes at the conference and federal agencies are gathering information from each other. FEMA, the Department of the Interior, and other agencies are learning about tribal needs in relation to a variety of struggles they’ve faced with climate change. The tribes are learning what federal resources are available to help.

Angela Johnson, who’s the tribal council president for the Native Village of Nelson Lagoon, said her community has not had to relocate, but said she’s always prepared for the possibility.

“It’s unknown,” Johnson said. “It’s easy to look at projections and do your studies and collect as much data as you can to try and predict what might happen, but honestly, it could happen in one day. You could have one, really bad storm and it could come and decimate your entire community, like Typhoon Merbok did to a lot of people’s communities.”

Johnson said her community has dealt with a lack of ice accumulation that usually protects the shorelines from storm damage and she said warming temperatures are the blame.

She said opportunities for tribal leaders to meet with federal agencies like this are vital.

“It’s so important to be able to tell our own story and tell these agencies the issues that we are facing, what we’re dealing with on our own in our individual communities,” Johnson said. “I also think it’s important for them to see that there are so many different communities all along the state that are dealing with almost the same exact kind of problems and there’s not enough resources out there right now and there’s not enough policies put in place right now to help protect us. We’re basically doing this on our own, fighting for competitive funding and not getting a lot of assistance from our government.”

The conference continues on Wednesday.