Three tribal communities from Alaska and Washington are experiencing climate change impacts.
In a press release, US Interior Secretary Deb Haaland said: “Indigenous communities are facing unique and intensifying climate-related challenges that pose an existential threat to Tribal economies, infrastructure, lives and livelihoods” (Climate change, 2022).
The three tribes consist of the Newtok Village, located on the Ninglick River in Alaska; the Native Village of Napakiak, located on the Kuskokwim River in Alaska; and the Quinault Indian Nation, located on the Olympic Peninsula in Washington.
Each tribal community will receive $25 million, a total of $75 million, from the Bipartisan Infrastructure Law and Inflation Reduction Act funding to help them relocate to higher and safer grounds.
Newtok Village is facing progressive coastal erosion from ocean storms and degrading permafrost. With the current rate of erosion at 70 feet per year, it will only take 2 to 4 years to threaten all its structures and critical infrastructures.
The Native Village of Napakiak is also facing severe erosion. The village’s erosion rate of 25 to 50 will risk the destruction of most of its current infrastructure by 2030. Although the community has a comprehensive management retreat and relocation plan, the lack of funding prevents them from implementing it.
The Quinault Indian Nation seeks to relocate its Taholah Village. Located where the Quinault River and the Pacific Ocean meet, the village is vulnerable to sea level rise, storm surges, river flooding, tsunamis from distant earthquakes from the Pacific rim, and local tsunamis from earthquakes near the US western coast. Lack of funding is the reason the village hasn’t begun to relocate.
In addition to the 75 million relocation grant, FEMA is adding another $17.7 million to help the three communities acquire, demolish, and build new infrastructure out of harm’s way.
Guy Capoeman, president of The Quinault Indian Nation, says, “We’re here at ground zero of the very climate change everybody’s talking about”, says Guy Capoeman, president of The Quinault Indian Nation (Diaz, 2022).
Capoeman said that the total cost of moving the Quinault Indian Nation’s two villages with more than 3,000 members about a mile uphill from its spot at the junction of the Quinault River and the Pacific Ocean is around $100 million. But every bit of funding helps in this massive endeavor, he adds.
A total of 11 tribes will avail of the $115 million funding for relocation efforts and adaptation planning. The budget will come from the Bipartisan Infrastructure Law and Inflation Reduction Act.
Eight other tribal communities from Arizona, California, Louisiana, and Maine face significant and varied climate risks, including riverine erosion, permafrost degradation, wildfire, flooding, flood insecurity, sea level rise, hurricane impact, potential levee failure, and drought.
These communities will receive $5 million each for a total of $40 million to prepare for their relocation and increased climate resilience.
Managed retreat is a powerful climate adaptation tool but is often considered a last resort. It is an approach to reduce or eliminate exposure to irreversible risks and threats from rising sea levels, flooding, and other climate change by relocating assets, activities, and sites away from these hazards.
Diaz, J. (2022 December 2022). 3 tribes dealing with the toll of climate change get $75 million to relocate. NPR. retrieved from https://www.npr.org/2022/12/01/1139949450/tribes-climate-change-relocation-department-of-interior
Climate change: US to pay $75m to relocate tribes facing flood threat. (2022, December 2). BBC. Retrieved from https://www.bbc.com/news/world-us-canada-63803689
Biden-Harris Administration Makes $135 Million Commitment to Support Relocation of Tribal Communities Affected by Climate Change. (2022, November 30). US Department of the Interior. Retrieved from https://www.doi.gov/pressreleases/biden-harris-administration-makes-135-million-commitment-support-relocation-tribal