Climate Change Displacement of Native Alaskans, USA


Shishmaref is a community composed primarily of Native Inupiaq Eskimos just South of the Artic Circle located on a small barrier island. Climate change has led rising temperatures melting the seas ice that shelters the community from storm surge as well as the permafrost of the island which has led to major erosion. In 2002 realizing the only viable option was to leave the island residents voted to relocate the entire community. No relocation action was taken due to a lack of resources. A 2006 study conducted by the Army Corps of Engineers estimated the cost of relocation between $100-200 million. The same study predicted that the existing village would be destroyed by erosion and flooding within 10 to 15 years. The question of how the Shishmaref community will be able to survive and retain their 4,000 year old culture in the face of these changes remains open.

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Basic Data
NameClimate Change Displacement of Native Alaskans, USA
CountryUnited States of America
Accuracy of LocationHIGH local level
Source of Conflict
Type of Conflict (1st level)Fossil Fuels and Climate Justice/Energy
Type of Conflict (2nd level)Climate change related conflicts (glaciers and small islands)
Project Details and Actors
Project DetailsRelocating island residents will cost an estimated $180 million and remove residents from the land that has been part of their culture for generations.
Project Area (in hectares)1890
Type of PopulationRural
Potential Affected Population588 current population of Shishmaref
Start Date2001
Relevant government actorsEPA, US Congress, Shishmaref Village Council
Environmental justice organisations and other supportersShishmaref Erosian and Relocation Coalition, Shishmaref Native Corporation, Shishmaref Village Council
The Conflict and the Mobilization
Intensity of Conflict (at highest level)LATENT (no visible organising at the moment)
When did the mobilization beginMobilization for reparations once impacts have been felt
Project StatusUnknown
Do you consider this as a success?Not Sure
Why? Explain briefly.The Shishmaref has brought a great deal of public attention to the climate justice issues facing Native Alaskan communities but the individual case of where the village residents will be moved and how relocation will be paid for remains open. Shishmaref continues to look for resources to aid relocation.
Sources and Materials

"Relocating the Native Village of Shishmaref, Alaska Due to Coastal Erosion"
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Arctic Change
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CNN - Climate change threatens life in Shishmaref, Alaska
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Media Links

As climate change melts the permafrost, Arctic villages slip into the sea, taking a way of life with them. Here is audio taken from one such village, Shishmaref, Alaska.
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The last day of Shishmaref
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A photo of some of the damage from erosion on the island.
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Other Documents

Shishmaref Alaska
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Other CommentsThis is one of the top 40 influential environmental justice cases in the United States identified from a national survey of environmental activists, scholars and other leaders by graduate students at the University of Michigan
Meta Information
ContributorKaty Hintzen, [email protected], University of Michigan School of Natural Resources and Environment
Last update07/05/2015