Sustaining Subsistence, Life & Culture as the Climate Changes
Climate change is here today and accelerating, transforming the land, waters, plants and animals of western Arctic Alaska. Communities, tribal organizations, land managers, researchers and agencies will all need to work together to respond to these serious challenges, and where possible seize on new opportunities. – Quotes below from participants in 2016 workshops in King Salmon, Unalaska, Nome and Kotzebue.
“Freezing rain on snow; caribou and other creatures have trouble reaching food.”
“Seeing big changes where and when we find berries; berries are 5-10% of our diet.”
“Streams are getting warmer and there’s less water – what will this do to salmon?”
“We’re going to have to move roads, fuel tanks, and maybe our clinic.”
“Lagoons on Alaska’s western coast are pristine and incredibly biologically productive – not many of those left on our planet.”
“Look where villages are located: on bays, rivers, lagoons where there is best access to subsistence foods. These places are getting hammered by climate change.”
“For us, it’s like someone moved the calendar by a month and nobody told us. We wonder what it must be like for the animals, plants and fish.”
More Than Just Food: Family, Fitness, Identity, Community, Memory, Spirit
Subsistence is the heart of life of western arctic Alaska. This graphic, based on the UAF Native Knowledge Network, gives a generalized picture of foods used through the seasons, and how these seasons are changing. The value of subsistence life can’t be quantified, but picking one dimension: what’s a walrus worth? Most importantly, it sustains culture and community, but just as food a walrus provides about 500 pounds of high quality protein; the equivalent of approximately 800 less nutritional steak meals, which would cost $6000-$7000.
Response to Change:
"We have always been adaptive, resilient people"
For thousands of years, Alaska’s traditional cultures have shown remarkable resilience, applying a mix of ancient and new skills to adapt, survive and thrive. Sections below highlight emerging strategies to sustain lives and cultures in the face of climate change.
LIVING WITH RISING WATERS
“Some of us are going to have to do things in new ways, make those calls ourselves, do things for ourselves.”
“Greenhouses and gardens may be one adaptation strategy but they don’t work everywhere. The land is our garden. That is what is preferred.”
WORKING TO TRACK CHANGE
“Need to do a better job of bringing science back to communities, to let people know what is happening so we can see what to do to change ahead of time.”
“Moving villages costs $100’s of millions, we need affordable portable solutions”
Dispersed seasonal subsistence camps and shelters – “we’ve been nomadic in the past”
“Turkeys are more cold tolerant than chickens -but bears will eat ‘em both!”
“Traditional foods are currently safe for just about everyone – but that may be changing.”
New, standardized protocols for local monitoring to better quantify change
New partnerships to better integrate traditional knowledge and scientific research
This project was a collaborative effort of many partners, led by Aleutian Pribilof Islands Association, Inc and the Aleutian Bering Sea Islands and Western AK Landscape Conservation Cooperatives, working with Agnew::Beck Inc. and the U. of Washington Center for Environmental Visualization. Funding was provided by the Bureau of Indian Affairs and U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. To get involved, citations or more information, see AdaptAlaska.org. Thanks to the over 200 people who contributed to these posters! Sept 2017