Eugene Asicksik, the mayor of Shaktoolik. Photo: Frontier of Change
As part of The Arctic Institute’s Summer Reading Series, we are reposting stories from Managing Director Victoria Herrmann’s National Geographic-funded project, America’s Eroding Edges.
The edges of our country are eroding, raising difficult questions about adaptation, relocation, and what it means to be an American experiencing climate change today. To connect the shared experiences of Americans facing these dramatic transformations, the National Trust for Historic Preservation has partnered with Victoria as she travels around the U.S. and its territories interviewing communities directly affected by shoreline erosion and climate change.
Shaktoolik, a small village on Alaska’s Norton Sound, sits on a spit of land between the Bering Sea and the Tagoomenik River. Without sea ice to protect it from fierce storms, this community of 260 people faces increased coastal erosion and flooding.
For this reason, and the fact that emergency evacuation would be nearly impossible, Shaktoolik was listed as one of four villages that “will likely need to move all at once and as soon as possible” in a 2009 report from the United States’ Government Accountability Office.
These villages have become poster children for the threats of climate change—drawing reporters from the Huffington Post, Al Jazeera, and the BBC. President Obama made a point to fly over the eroding village of Kivalina during his 2015 visit to Alaska.
Despite the media attention, most people—even most Alaskans—will never set foot in one of these villages. All are reachable only by small plane.
Here we offer an opportunity to walk in the shoes of a Shaktoolik resident, to experience the sounds of Shaktoolik, and to hear the stories of a few people who live there, told in their own voices and in in their own words.
Eugene Asicksik is Shaktoolik’s Mayor. Here, he welcomes you to town and explains the village’s method of defense against the ocean: a gravel berm.
Shaktoolik only has one road; it’s about a mile long. Eugene lives on the southern end of the village, with his wife, Rhoda.
Palmer and Fena Sagoonick were both born in Shaktoolik, and they’ve seen many changes come to the village in their lifetimes.
Ernest Sagoonick, Palmer’s brother, lives down the road. He’s 75 years old, but is “still looking for adventure.” Here, he remembers a time when he became curious about what was on the other side of nearby Besboro Island.
The commentary was originally published on September 19, 2016. It was created by the project Frontier of Change, a production of KNBA and Finding America, a national initiative produced by AIR, the Association of Independents in Radio, Incorporated, and with financial support from the Corporation for Public Broadcasting, the Wyncote Foundation, the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation, and the National Endowment for the Arts.
The Arctic Institute’s Summer Readings 2017
- A Continual State of Emergency: Climate Change and Native Lands in Northwest Alaska
- Self-Preservation: Amid Debate, An Alaskan Village Decides to Move Inland
- When the Sea Wall Breaks: Climate Change in Teller, Alaska
- Fighting the Rising Tide in Shaktoolik, Alaska
- Climate Change Hope in America
- A Delicate Balance of Commerce and Climate Change in Nome, Alaska