Two days ago the small village of Shishmaref in Alaska faced a vote. Threatened by rising sea levels, they had to decide whether to stay in the village they and some of their ancestors have called home for around 400 years, or relocate. The results are in, and it was a close vote.
Around 600 people reside in Shishmaref, and the majority are Inupiat Inuit. Both tribal and non-tribal people were invited to vote. Shishmaref voted to leave in a 89 to 78 vote. Those are the unofficial numbers; city council secretary Donna Burr says the vote has yet to be certified. It appears locals grappled with the decision as they tried to decide what would be best for future generations.
Resident Tiffany Magby has a son who is three, and she’s afraid away from Shishmaref, he won’t have as much contact with traditional values. She told Grist, “I waited until the last hour to vote. I…am worried about what it means for his upbringing.” She says others also waited until near the end to cast their vote.
Because of rising sea levels due to climate change, however, in the next few decades the residents may or may not have a choice. According to NOAA’s Arctic Change website, reduced sea ice stemming from climate change has led to “higher storm surges.” Infrastructure, homes, and even the village water system are at risk.
Shishmaref also voted to leave and go to the mainland in 2002, but there wasn’t enough federal funding for them to actually make the move. They’d likely need around $200 million to relocate, but the U.S. Department of the Interior has only offered $8 million for tribes looking to move. Burr said the village would have to work around the limited funds. She told Grist, “It’s not going to happen in our lifetimes. We just want to take the right steps forward for our children.”