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

Increasingly threatened by the impacts of climate change and extreme weather, many Native Alaskan and other indigenous communities will have to relocate—and soon.

2 minute read

January 26, 2023, 12:00 PM PST

By Diana Ionescu @aworkoffiction

National Guard troops clearing storm debris in Newtok, Alaska

Alaska National Guardsmen clear storm debris in Newtok, Alaska in 2022. | The National Guard / National Guard in Newtok, Alaska

An article by Emily Schwing in High Country News describes the challenges facing Native villages in Alaska and other parts of the United States, where “Melting permafrost, increasing wildfire threats, severe drought and other climate-change related phenomena mean dozens, perhaps hundreds, of small, predominantly Indigenous communities across the nation may need 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 River have 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 plan for a full 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, estimates a need of $8 million for additional housing, 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.

Wednesday, January 18, 2023 in High Country News

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