In Chefornak, a Yu’pik village near the western coast of Alaska, the water is getting closer.
The thick ground, once frozen solid, is thawing. The village preschool, its blue paint peeling, sits precariously on wooden stilts in spongy marsh between a river and a creek. Storms are growing stronger. At high tide these days, water rises under the building, sometimes keeping out the children, ages 3 to 5. The shifting ground has warped the floor, making it hard to close the doors. Mold grows.
“I love our building,” said Eliza Tunuchuk, one of the teachers. “At the same time, I want to move.”
The village, where the median income is about $11,000 a year, sought help from the federal government to build a new school on dry land — one of dozens of buildings in Chefornak that must be relocated. But agency after agency offered variations on the same response: no.
From Alaska to Florida, Native Americans are facing severe climate challenges, the newest threat in a history marked by centuries of distress and dislocation. While other communities struggle on a warming planet, Native tribes are experiencing an environmental peril exacerbated by policies — first imposed by white settlers and later the United States government — that forced them onto the country’s least desirable lands.
And now, climate change is quickly making that marginal land uninhabitable. The first Americans face the loss of home once again.
In the Pacific Northwest, coastal erosion and storms are eating away at tribal land, forcing native communities to try to move inland. In the Southwest, severe drought means the Navajo Nation is running out of drinking water. At the edge of the Ozarks, heirloom crops are becoming harder to grow, threatening to disconnect the Cherokee from their heritage.
Why, it’s almost as if the genocide against Native peoples has never stopped! And I know I am shocked that whites don’t want to take these issues seriously. In the Northeast at least, discussions of race never even acknowledge the tribes exist, except for complaining about casinos.