When a Village Has to Move Shishmaref

In the plywood skiff with the big outboard engine, we wound our way up Tin Creek. It was nearly mid-August, the scene all around us pulsing with birds green-winged teals tipping in the side sloughs, the white-fronted geese locals call speckle-bellies overhead, gulls keeping pace beside us. Tony Weyiouanna, driving the boat, knew the channel knew where to find the deepest water as only someone with years of close acquaintance could. The lowland country all around us was huge, and I was easily...

Sea Ice and Ice Bears Barter IsLand

On Thanksgiving morning in Kaktovik, my teacher friends and I took a long walk along the beach facing the frozen Beaufort Sea. I say morning, but it was 11 a.m. when we set out, when the day was approaching its brightest, and we got back at about 1 45, just as dusk was settling back down over the land and in time for the community feast. In the Inupiaq language, the word for November translates as the month when the sun goes down for the winter, and three days earlier the day I'd arrived by...

The Oceanic Realm Bering

In a conference room in Bethel, Alaska, twenty-some Yup'ik elders from surrounding Bering Sea villages bent their heads over three tables spread with maps. In Yup'ik and the occasional English translation, they talked about the colored sections and shared their own personal knowledge of the parts of the Bering Sea near and sometimes not so near their villages, where they fish and hunt for walrus, seals, ducks, and beluga whales. Except for two women, they were all men, mostly in their seventies...

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Devilish little boys I'd seen at school were now wearing white shirts with vests and ties, and the older girls were carting around younger siblings on their hips. People I'd just met introduced me to their mothers and fathers, cousins, and neighbors. When everyone was seated, elder Isaac Akootchook (who I learned was also the retired Presbyterian minister and who looked to me like a Shakespearean friar, with his gray hair cut straight across his forehead) led us in prayer. Partly in...

Fort Yukon Alaska

Before visiting the village of Fort Yukon in Alaska's interior, 145 air miles north of Fairbanks, I knew it for three claims to fame. First, it was the home of Alaska's lone congressman (for thirty-five years), Don Young, who had once been a tugboat captain on the Yukon River and a fifth-grade teacher at the local BIA (Bureau of Indian Affairs) school, and who was married to a local Gwich'in woman. He was also a strenuous denier of climate change and, on a campaign visit to my hometown in 2008,...