When President Barack Obama travels to Alaska in August to attend the Conference on Global Leadership in the Arctic: Cooperation, Innovation, Engagement and Resilience, or GLACIER, he is likely to see up close the determination of Alaska Natives to maintain their traditional hunting and fishing cultures; to obtain quality education and health care for their families; and to build sustainable economies. He is also likely to see firsthand the horrors of slow-onset climate catastrophe. The skyrocketing risks of climate change are forcing many Alaska Native communities to consider moving. Alarmingly, what is happening in Alaska is part of a much larger trend in the United States and globally in which a growing number of people are displaced by more extreme weather or other climate change effects.
In the words of AFN President Kitka, “Native people have a tremendous desire to be involved in directing their own lives and working peacefully and constructively with others to do that.” When President Obama comes to Alaska in August, he can take three concrete steps to help Alaska Native villages chart a course to keep their cultures and communities intact in the face of climate change.
The president could…
- [increase] the flexibility of existing disaster assistance programs.
- use his Stafford Act authority to waive the cost-sharing requirement for the Public Assistance Program, which supports emergency protective measures and the rebuilding of damaged schools, community centers, and other public infrastructure.
- [reauthorize and repurpose] the Denali Commission—as AFN suggested in a March 2015 letter to the commission—as the lead federal agency for community and infrastructure resilience and relocation planning in rural Alaska.
- announce new initiatives to support hybrid energy systems in rural Alaskan communities.
- could urge the U.S. Department of Energy to partner with Alaska to make it a major national test lab for innovative clean energy technologies.
Together, the actions outlined above would help the federal government meet its trust responsibility to protect tribal treaty rights, lands, assets, and resources. These recommended actions would also help native communities avoid climate catastrophe, direct their own destinies, and thrive in a rapidly changing climate.