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

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.

Eroding village dispute

“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.