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It’s only a matter of a few short years
before the Native American village of Newtok, Alaska, is underwater.
The Yup’ik eskimos of Newtok (Niugtaq) have lived in the Yukon-Kuskokwim Delta Region of the western coast of Alaska for a millennia, and have been forced to relocate several times, most recently due to flooding from the rapidly eroding Ninglick River. The terrain and physical position of the current village location allows us to live our traditional subsistence lifestyle, but sits on permafrost situated on top of natural gas, which erodes the river at an average rate of 72 feet per year. The river is projected to inundate our village in 2017.
Newtok’s new site, Mertarvik, is located across the Ninglick River on Nelson Island. Mertarvik is situated on solid ground. Since 2008, six homes and an evacuation center foundation have been built using grants from the state and federal government, but no progress has been made on Mertarvik after the six homes were completed in summer 2011.
As a tribe that lives a traditional subsistence lifestyle in a remote location, we lack the economy needed to increase the standard of living and eliminate the use of food stamps in Newtok. In order to decrease poverty, our village has established five businesses which showcase local resources, native skills, and tribal traditions. These businesses will create jobs for our village, improve morale, and also provide a unique product or service to be enjoyed by people all around the world.
We want to stop relying on meager government grants and being subject to restrictive legislation and government contracts that restrict our ability to move out of danger. The Tribal Council plans to train local villagers to construct, install, and transport elements of the new site, integrate new energy technology to decrease reliance on expensive diesel fuel, and utilize the free market to decrease overall costs of constructing and maintaining the new site.
We possess the capabilities to make our own decisions regarding the external and internal infrastructure of our village, and our local institutions of government warrant authority in each phase of the move and economic development thereafter. We realize that government dependency does not produce economic stability, efficiency, or prosperity, and we will not be dependent on a government agency guide our move and future economic activity.
We may be disadvantaged, but we don’t want a hand out. This is what America should be.