Archive for Tuesday, June 20, 2006

Alaska native sees culture, heritage endangered through climate change

June 20, 2006


Global warming is squeezing the life out of Oscar Kawagley's culture.

"It is scary," he said. "Cold is what makes my language, my culture, my identity. What am I going to do without cold?"

Kawagley, 71, grew up in Bethel, Alaska, a Yupiaq village where, he said, "as a boy, we depended on seal for meat, for seal oil and for clothing."

Nowadays, he said, seals are scarce.

"They are getting harder and harder to find because the ice is getting farther and farther out, and it's not as thick," Kawagley said. "Seals have to have ice for their pups - so do walrus - but it is disappearing."

Kawagley spoke Monday at "Impact of Climate Change on Indigenous Peoples," a three-day symposium at Haskell Indian Nations University, which is a first of its type for the school.

Other consequences of global warming:

Oscar Kawagley, of Fairbanks, Alaska, discusses global warming Monday at Haskell Indian Nations University. Kawagley, an Alaskan native, warned about the impact of climate change on indigenous cultures.

Oscar Kawagley, of Fairbanks, Alaska, discusses global warming Monday at Haskell Indian Nations University. Kawagley, an Alaskan native, warned about the impact of climate change on indigenous cultures.

¢ Undeterred by the cold, bark beetles and budworms are wiping out thousands of acres of white and black spruce.

¢ The number of forest fires is increasing.

¢ Several fish species are disappearing.

¢ The region's permafrost is melting.

¢ Coastal ice sheets are melting, exposing villages to the ocean's waters.

"It is a shame to see the pictures of the waves lapping against villagers' homes," said Kawagley, an associate professor of education at the University of Alaska-Fairbanks. "But it is a reality."

¢ Polar bears are drowning because they must swim up to 60 miles in open sea to find food. Some have turned to cannibalism.

¢ As food supplies dwindle, black, brown and grizzly bears are becoming more aggressive.

"In Denali National Park today, they will not let you put up a tent because of the bears," Kawagley said.

Oscar Kawagley, from the University of Alaska-Fairbanks, on the impact of global warming


Kawagley said his Yupiaq culture is reeling from the changes.

"I feel afraid for my grandchildren," he said. "Already, they are in a state of confusion."

Kawagley's comments struck a chord with Dan Wildcat, a Haskell instructor and the symposium's coordinator.

"These are major issues to face that are very disruptive to native people - indigenous people who still take their identities, their lifeways and their cultures from the landscapes they live on," Wildcat said.

"For people who are maintaining those traditions, these changes are going to be very challenging."

The symposium ends Thursday morning. About 30 people attended Monday's sessions.


Sigmund 12 years ago

For quite a while global warming has been presented in the public forum as a universally accepted scientific reality. However, in the light of Al Gore's new film An Inconvenient Truth many climate experts are stepping forward and pointing out that there is no conclusive evidence to support global warming as a phenomenon, much less any particular cause of it.

chzypoof1 12 years ago

There are a lot of scientists that say that this warming trend is just a cycle, just like the climate cycles that have happened in our past. Doomsday thinkers just want something to complain about.....

Kornphlake 12 years ago

  1. Bethel, Alaska is not a village it's the largest town in western Alaska(I know I've been there). 2. Don't live by the ocean and cry about your house getting flooded. 3. It's not like there aren't any stores in Bethel, if your hungry go to the A.C. Mec (that's how the Yupiaq say mart). 4. Honestly you should thank God for giving you a reason to leave that god forsaken place. Bethel may be the worst place to live in America, if you take the cost of living vs the quality of life then it is without a doubt the worst place in America.

guppypunkhead 12 years ago

Only 30 people heard this man talk. I suppose since you all have so much to say about it you were there? I personally like to get my information from primary sources.

chzypoof1 12 years ago

Guppy, I don't have to listen to a slanted view at HINU to know that global warming has nothing to do with the warming of the earth. It's a natural cycle. If his talk was so important, there would have been more than 30 people there...

dex 12 years ago

Global warming will probably increase the cost per barrel of oil extracted out of ANWR someday -- tough break. Nevertheless, I can't wait until Fairbanks is in a tropical climate again.

dex 12 years ago

And just because the speaker lives in Alaska it doesn't mean he's talking about testable hypotheses or theories about climate change or it's underlying causes or verify those hypotheses with data collected in a systematic unbiased process, only that he can act as a personal witness to some of the local effects of climate change. This story isn't about climate change as science, it's about how we feel about climate change: BE AFRAID!

kcwarpony 12 years ago

chzypoof1, An elders' observations is not a "slanted view", it is his story of what he has experienced and witnessed. Listen to him, you might learn something.

There might have been more than 30 people there to listen if the government would properly fund Haskell so there could be summer classes instead of sending the students home. You couldn't figure that out yourself?

geekin_topekan 12 years ago

Interesting.I wish I coulda heard his talk. Did he mention making a dipping sauce out of the seals blood?Add a little corn starch and dried berries and VIOLA!!Genuine Yupaiq Soul Food!! The only natural resource on our reservation is the humidity.Most of the land is under 100 year leases.I am glad that some Natives can still live on the land. I agree.Seal would make a bold fashion statement but I bet it's warmwarmwarm.

chzypoof1 12 years ago

Warpony- You always make my day. It always turns into a "natives vs the govt" fight with you. Doesn't matter what the issue is, the Baker Swamplands (not owned by haskell), Alaska (not owned by Haskell), or whatever, you try to change the slant of the article to better your view.

The world climates rotate in cycles through the years. If they can't adjust to the changes, they won't survive. It should not be the govt's responsiblity to help every group that WONT help themselves. Get over it, get up and make your life better....

OldEnuf2BYurDad 12 years ago

"An elders' observations is not a "slanted view""

Your respect for your elders is commendable, and sorely lacking from the hearts of most westerners, in my opinion.

BUT, an elder's observations are also limited by the experiences of that person's lifespan. The question about global warming is not if it is happening as much as if it is part of some ENORMOUS natural cycle by which the planet maintains it's vitality. Warming, freezing, flooding, drought... these may seem catastrophic, but are they, in a REALLY REALLY REALLY BIG PICTURE just something that the earth does to keep the soil fertile and the oceans full of life?

There is a federal complex in KC MO that has a big floodwall around it to keep it protected (I think it's off Bannister). On the wall are markings of where they predict the floodlines would be for 100 year floods and 500 year floods. The 500 year floodline is HIGH, which suggests that at some point, KC MO will be underwater... even those parts that are far above the "floodplain". So, is the same true for "normal lows" and "normal highs" and such? We probably have a LOT more to learn about 1,000 year and 2,000 year earth cycles. Would an elder know of such things?

kcwarpony 12 years ago

You people read way too much into things.

I never said a word about global warming. I never said an elder knows everything. Only pointed out the disrespect that was said about him. I never said you would learn about global warming from him. Doesn't mean you couldn't learn something from his words.

chzypoof1, Only mentioned the government lack of funding to show a REASON why more people may have not been in attendance. But thanks for showing what an idiot you can be, you made my day :)

Mike Ford 12 years ago

The disrespect this man has received from the mentally lazy posters speaks volumes of the ignorance and racism in this country. Chzypoof, You're from Cuba, right? what's a peninsulare'? it's someone in the Latin American world who despises Indigenous Peoples. It's the person who says "Mexican" instead of Mayan, Quechan, Nahautl, Holchol, Mixtec, or Olmec. Maybe, it's a Cuban person who calls themselves Cuban instead of Carib, Arawak, or Calusa. There were Indigenous peoples in the Caribbean before there were Spaniards. In some parts of the Caribbean, there still are Carib, Arawak, and Taino Peoples. Chzypoof, stop slagging people who assert their tribal identity and speak their language. This Inupiat elder's land was invaded by Russians and later purchased by the United States in 1867. In this time, his people have suffered from diseases like smallpox and scourges like Christianity, and yet they've survived. I know from your previous posts that you like to say incitefully mindless things to cause comments. What can you possibly assert in a scientifically factual way that belies the small mindedness I usually hear?

CheyenneWay 12 years ago

Since the Industrial Revolution greenhouse gases have spiked in the earths atmosphere exponentially. If you do not believe me then have a look at the chart in the link I've provided below. Many people call this a natural cycle but when humans cause a change in the atmosphere such as this, then I believe we should take a closer look.

There is a scientific finding that the ozone is repairing itself, but what many take as good information I consider good science used in a bad way. What I mean is that yes the troposphere ozone layer is showing an increase over the arctic plates yet the one that us humans should be concerned with is the STRATOSPHERIC ozone layer. This is the one that protects our fragile ecosystems and will influence future temperature rates and world food supply yields.

LINK: You will find the charts midway on the left and specifically the 1st column 2nd Row

X axis is years and you can see around the 1920-30's a red line spiking up. Coincidence?

Y axis is the parts per million of CO2 Concentration, there is an expected 550ppm by the year 2050.

OldEnuf2BYurDad 12 years ago

This from today:

"It has been 2,000 years and possibly much longer since the Earth has reached such high temperatures"

So... Long before we were using coal or oil, the earth has already, due to natural occurences or cycles, been this hot before?

just_another_bozo_on_this_bus 12 years ago

Much of the warming could be due to "natural" cycles. But if you add to that warming produced human-produced greenhouse gases, the warming could create very critical problems for the nearly 7 billion humans struggling to survive as it is.

Anyone who has ever done a titration experiment in a chemistry class knows that very, very small changes can trigger a tipping point. And with a system the size of the Earth's atmosphere and ocean systems, once inertia takes hold in a certain direction, we humans with our relatively puny technological capabilities will be helpless to reverse it.

Personally, I'd rather err on the side of caution, but curiously, "conservatives" who like to pooh-pooh the notion of global warming would rather just damn the torpedos.

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