Federal Grants Aid Native Relocation, but Will They Be Enough?

An arti­cle by Emi­ly Schwing in High Coun­try News describes the chal­lenges fac­ing Native vil­lages in Alas­ka and of the Unit­ed States, where “Melt­ing per­mafrost, increas­ing wild­fire threats, severe drought and oth­er cli­mate- relat­ed phe­nom­e­na mean dozens, per­haps hun­dreds, of small, pre­dom­i­nant­ly Indige­nous com­mu­ni­ties across the nation may to move.”

The Alaskan vil­lage of New­tok only had a nomadic pop­u­la­tion until the mid 20th cen­tu­ry, when fed­er­al author­i­ties told Yup’ik res­i­dents that they had to set­tle per­ma­nent­ly to access fed­er­al­ly fund­ed schools. “But the land in New­tok has nev­er been all that sta­ble: Since the 1950s, the banks of the Ninglick been erod­ing at rates as high as 70 feet per year.” As Schwing notes, the com­mu­ni­ty has been painful­ly aware of this. “For more than two decades, New­tok has been try­ing to for a relo­ca­tion.” 

The fed­er­al gov­ern­ment has start­ed award­ing grants to com­mu­ni­ties need­ing to relo­cate. But with a total cost esti­mat­ed at $120 mil­lion or more for the New­tok relo­ca­tion, how far can a $25 mil­lion grant, award­ed by the fed­er­al gov­ern­ment through the Bipar­ti­san Infra­struc­ture Law, go?

The vil­lage faces with a slew of costs that won’t be cov­ered by the fed­er­al grant. Patrick LeMay, the New­tok relo­ca­tion project man­ag­er, a need of $8 mil­lion for addi­tion­al , plus $60 mil­lion for a school, $2.3 mil­lion for a health clin­ic, and oth­er infra­struc­ture needs. As the impact of cli­mate change inten­si­fies, more com­mu­ni­ties will need assis­tance.

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