When Climate Takes a Village: Legal Pathways toward the Relocation of Alaska Native Villages

In: Climate Law
Elizaveta Barrett Ristroph PhD Candidate, University of Hawaii at Manoa; and Ristroph Law, Planning, and Research

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In Alaska, indigenous rural communities face climate-related challenges to maintaining their physical and cultural continuity. Some of these communities are considering ‘co-relocation’, in which the population of an entire community relocates to a new site on nearby rural land where residents can continue to practice their subsistence lifeways. Some Alaskans have called for government-assisted co-relocation for Alaska Native Villages (anvs), whereby national and State of Alaska government agencies pay for and lead the construction of housing and infrastructure at the new site. This model of relocation has many challenges, including expense, delay, lack of support from those outside anvs, confusion as to which agency will do what, and the effect of continuing an unsustainable Western colonial pattern. The state and federal governments, in partnership with anvs, need to explore what alternatives are available to preserve these communities’ physical and cultural continuity. This article considers the legal and political framework for relocation alternatives, and suggests pathways that would not require major changes of law or the creation of new agencies. I draw on various legal sources as well as interviews with anv members, Alaska legislators, Congressional staff, federal and state agency directors, academics, planners, and others who make or influence policy that could affect co-relocation.

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