KIVALINA IN THE NEWS
It is now seven years after Luke Cole, Brent Newell and national team of lawyers filed Kivalina versus Exxon et al, one of the first global warming suits. The spotlight has been on Kivalina ever since when it comes to climate change discussions in the Arctic. President Obama will be visiting Alaska in early September, 2015 and there is a good possibility he will visit Kivalina. Take a look:
OUR VISIT TO KIVALINA
by Sharmon J Hilfinger
Kivalina is a tribe, a village, a barrier reef island. It is on the west coast of Alaska, 70 miles above the Arctic Circle. This is the home of a tribe of Inupiat Eskimos. There are no roads to Kivalina; to get there, you take a plane from Kotzebue. A very small plane that can carry a couple of passengers along with cargo for the village—supplies for the general store, the mail, maybe a neighboring village’s gift of whale meat to their cousins.
If you stand in the middle of the village near the community center, you can see both sides of the island. One side is the lagoon that pools at the end of the Wulik River; the other side is the Chukchi Sea. When we arrived there in mid-July, there were still icebergs floating in the Sea. They were small, but luminescent, oddly shaped. Within a day, they had melted away.
It was high summer, so the sun was in the sky for 24 hours a day—a treat for me, but ultimately disorienting. I realized I couldn’t tell what was east or west, north or south; my internal compass had lost its rising and falling marker. We went to bed with blinds on the window at 11 or 12, but we could be awakened by the sound of children playing outdoors at 3 a.m. They know how to take advantage of the daylight! Undoubtedly, they know how to catch-up on sleep in the totally dark months of the year.
The houses in Kivalina look like houses in other parts of the U.S. There aren’t streets, and there aren’t yards—not much grows on this island so far north. One village woman has a car that she likes to drive around in the evening just for fun; other people have their four-wheelers that they use to carry wood and water to their homes. Evidence of their subsistence life is noticeable with outdoor drying racks for fish and meat, winter sleds leaning against the houses, boats on the lagoon side of the island. Indoors, the TVs run non-stop.
On a clear day, the Chukchi side of the island offers a beautiful seaside view with an occasional cargo ship headed to or from the Red Dog Port. Somehow, you sense that you are very far north: the absence of trees, the quality of light, the horizon compressed, as if infinity narrows at the North Pole.
If you surf the web, you will find many hits for Kivalina. The Global Warming suit filed by Luke Cole, Brent Newell and Heather Kendall Miller in 2008 brought national and international attention to the plight of the first climate refugees in the United States. The photos on this website were taken on our trip to Kivalina. Below are a few sites with more photos and information. Sharmon J Hilfinger