Saturday, January 3, 2009

Indigenous People's Communities and Villages: Relocation Due to Climate Change

The other day I received this query from colleague Mark Dowie and was asked to share it. He is searching for examples of indigenous communities, villages, or towns that have had to relocated due to climate change. If you know of an example, please leave a comment.


I am writing to seek your assistance for a book I am researching, tentatively entitled THE CANARY NARRATIVES: How Twenty Million Lost Their Homelands. I am in search of remote communities, indigenous and non-indigenous, that have been forced to abandon longstanding, traditional homelands as a consequence of climate change. I am hoping to describe in detail the experience of about a dozen communities existing in as many different ecosystems – montane, island, arctic, riverine, desert, forest, savannah, coastal etc.— that have been so devastated by storm, drought, flood, heat, wildfire, disease or other consequences of global warming, that the place that once supported them became unlivable and people were either forced off their land by fate or opted to relocate.
Indigenous Alaska Native Village Damaged Climate Change
Two examples I am already researching are Shishmaref, a storm battered coastal community in northeast Alaska, whose residents recently voted to relocate, and Lateu, a village on Tegua Island in Vanuatu I visited two years ago that has since been forced to move to higher ground by rising ocean levels. I have others in mind but need more to choose from.

If you know of even one community that has shared this experience, could you tell me as much as you can about it and perhaps provide the names and coordinates of others familiar with the community, particularly people with direct and immediately experience with the decision making process that lead to evacuation. I am particularly interested in finding tropical, montane, alpine, desert and riverine communities.

Thank you,
Mark Dowie
Tegua Island Indigenous Community Climate Change
If people know of examples of indigenous communities moving or relocating as a result of climate change, please leave a comment. This is an important issue, and I am sure we will be hearing of more indigenous communities moving in the near future due to climate change.

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Anonymous said...

I did some work for the Indigenous Peoples Secretariat of the Arctic Council in the fall and winter of 2008. At one meeting looking at Adaptation Strategies to Climate Change in the Arctic held in Copenhagen, Indigenous groups told of dramatic changes and described how northern peoples are scrambling to comprehend and then to adapt to these changes. Stories like that of Shishmaref in Alaska had parallels in Russia, Greenland, and Nunavut. They didn't match the situation exactly but they spoke to melting perma frost, changing migratory patterns, flooded villages.

Here's one excerpt from a report of that meeting, from a presentation by Gennady Inankeuyas, of RAIPON (Russian Indigenous Peoples):

Lakes and sea ice freezes later, causing hunters to leave later or not at all if conditions are unsafe. Spring thaws arrive earlier, making travel more hazardous since ice may be too thin to support safe transport. Migratory patterns change, causing wildlife to arrive in their usual places earlier or later, to leave at equally unpredictable times, or to disappear completely. Hunters who have been successful by adapting their methods in the past are not so successful anymore because the pace of change has occurred so quickly. To hunters and herders, this means they need to be on the land further and further from their communities for longer periods of time.

“They (hunters) may find the waters of rivers or lakes very high in the fall before freezing. The ice will freeze but water will drop, creating a gap between the ice cover and the water below. This creates a dangerous condition that hunters and reindeer have not experienced before, as they may fall through the ice into the gap below.”

Erosion of permafrost has meant that buildings (homes) may not be safe any longer, roads may no longer support traffic, and airfields may be deemed unsafe for landing. Entire communities have had to relocate from their former areas into other areas where at least basic health and emergency services may be found.

“However, once there, hunters and herders may find themselves in competition with local populations, other Indigenous Peoples. Homes may not exist for them. They may settle in with family or friends, but this creates overcrowding problems. Services may be overwhelmed since they are not designed to handle this new population. Governments may not recognize the situation or fail to act or help. So the impact on Indigenous Peoples is real and we believe it is directly due to climate change.”

Mark Dowie might contact the IPS office and request a copy of the report of that meeting, and of the PowerPoint presentation from Russia, along with email addresses of the participants.

I hope this helps.

Peter N. Jones said...

Thanks for the information shmohawk! I have to agree with you, indigenous peoples along coastlines are currently seeing the results of global climate change. Likewise, as you note, global climate change is having a wide range of impacts on indigenous peoples in many eco-regions, including the Arctic, Africa, Oceania, and in parts of South America. These impacts are bound to only increase in the coming years.

Also, thank you for the information on the report and meeting.

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