Native Village 
Youth and Education News

January 1, 2013

Ground melting underfoot in Alaska
by Mike Williams

Condensed by Native Village

Alaska: I am a Yupiaq from the small village of Akiak, Alaska, where climate change is becoming woven into the fabric of our lives.

I can give dozens of examples of the substantial and adverse impacts climate change, but I’ll start with the most personal. Since 1992, I have had the good fortune of participating in the Iditarod. The changes over the years to this “Last Great Race on Earth” have been tremendous. To combat the lack of snow cover in Wasilla, the race has been permanently moved north to Willow. Even so, the days are now too warm, and we have to run mostly at night to keep the dogs cool.

But that is a small thing compared to what Alaska’s wider Indigenous community is suffering. Everything is changing so quickly:

Our l
akes are drying

ew insects are appearing

ur ice is melting

Our s
torms are fiercer

Our p
olar bears are drowning
Our berries are disappearing

Our temperatures are increasing

Our sea levels are rising


                Our permafrost is melting

ur oceans are acidifying

Our villages are quite literally being swept away into the sea because of coastal erosion. My family’s house in the village where I was born fell into the river, and a cemetery with the remains of village elders has had to be moved. We lost a community hospital to erosion.

People are moving further inland and to higher ground, away from where they were born and where our people have lived for generations. Because infrastructure is so expensive, far too many people from these villages are becoming climate change refugees.

We’re fighting as hard as we can to preserve our traditions in this changing landscape, and to adapt. In fact, we are installing wind power in very remote communities. Some of the small villages are assessing biomass facilities using forestry waste. Some are analyzing geothermal power plants.

I have joined other tribal leaders from around the country in testifying before Congress, asking the federal government to help us and to act to combat climate change. Because we are so remote in Alaska, we must tell people what is happening there.

Our traditions have withstood the test of time. But if we want to preserve them for generations into the future, we must address the threats from climate change.

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