Newtok, Alaska.  Travis: https:

What is the relationship between sense of place and resilience?[1] In Norway one study found that communities with deep connections to the land have the highest resilience. In other words, a strong link to place is key for place-based advocacy and for helping communities maintain cohesion in the face of natural and social disasters.

So what does it mean when a community has a deep, strong bond to a place that is increasingly imperiled? What does adapting to climate change mean for northern Scandinavia’s Sami whose tundra grazing lands melting? For Gulf Coast communities like the Biloxi-Chitimacha-Choctaw of Isle de Jean Charles who have recently chosen to relocate the entire community beyond the sea’s reach?

This is the very challenge that is faced by communities in the United States’ Pacific Northwest, as rising seas encroach onto land long a part of cultural practice and memory. Nowhere is this more stark than among Alaska Native communities, deemed in 2014 as some of the most vulnerable in the country. The community of Newtok voted two decades ago to relocate as rising waters ate away at their homeland, yet federal support has never materialized, meaning for over twenty years the community has lived in a kind of limbo – part way towards relocation, unable to complete the move. For Newtok, the choice is clear but action is in slow motion. Federal funds are available for coastal communities to develop wetlands and build seawalls, for flood response infrastructure. However, the funding mechanism for communities which seek to relocate, rather than rebuild, is narrow.

A similar example is the community of Kivalina, Alaska. Each storm takes the village closer to disaster, but until crisis strikes, no funding will help the community move to higher ground. In order to hold on to lifeways rooted in specific places, these communities must now seek to connect those traditions to new locations.

This double-bind also evokes memories of forced Native American relocation, settlement, and removal. Yet, in this century, without support for relocation, these communities are at risk of losing their way of life as members leave one by one, fragmenting the community. Until a discrete tragedy has struck these communities, freeing up millions of dollars in federal disaster funding, little support is available.

Still, these communities aren’t waiting for that to materialize. Instead, in Newtok, the move continues, slowly, one building at a time. In Kivalina, the ReLocate is bringing together community members, artists, and ethnographers, to reconceptualize home, as an idea and a place.

A History of Dwelling in the Kivalina Region. ReLocate:

[1] Resilience itself being a troubling term, however. Is it about “bouncing back” to a real or imaginary state? Is it about building on opportunities in the face of challenges? I feel sure that a key part must be about holding onto the cultural practices and beliefs most important to a community while adapting to a changing world.