Story at a glance:

  • A community of Native Alaskans are forced to move to a new village.
  • Life is slightly better in Mertarvik, but certain infrastructure, like an airport and a full clinic, have not been developed yet.
  • The transition from Newtok to Mertarvik is not federally funded, which is making the move a lot more difficult.

Newtok, Alaska, a federally recognized tribal city on the edge of the state, will eventually have its 400 Yup’ik residents migrate to a town 30 minutes away called Mertarvik due to climate change.

However, not everyone is committed to move due to lack of financial funding, leaving the town of Newtok torn into two groups.

With Newtok crumbling into the sea, the alternative choice for residents like Lisa Charles and her family is to move on, The Guardian reported.


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A mother of seven, a nonprofit employee, and a political volunteer, Charles is one of the growing number of American migrants who are affected due to climate change.

The Arctic permafrost in Newtok has melted considerably over the years while rivers quickly erode. In 2004, the demise of Newtok was predicted by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers.

By 2020, about a quarter of the land was gone.

“I think of Newtok as a little island, as swampy ground,” Charles told The Guardian. “The ground has gotten so bad that all the light poles are leaning over, the boardwalks are getting crooked and breaking apart.”

The residents are in the process of moving to Mertarvik, where life for them needs adjusting as their new home is missing certain infrastructure, like an airport and a full clinic.

And while the plan to move to Mertarvik has been in discussion for the past 20 years, the funding for the relocation has been a challenge, seeing how there was no federal funding involved, PBS NewsHour reported.

In addition to funding troubles, people like Carolyn George chose to stay in Newtok.

With limited resources, decisions on who should be moving and how funds should be distributed and spent from the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (Cares) Act has led to much infighting in the village.

Much of the money was invested towards constructing homes in Mertarvik, but because of shipping delays, nine new houses were left unfinished during the winter season.

The residents had to rely on various sources to move and build new homes in Mertarvik, including getting assistance from the U.S. Military.

George, whose parents are living in Mertarvik, misses her family. Newtok had cancelled its Native dancing festivals and basketball tournaments, to the chagrin of its remaining residents.

“It was sad having to leave our old house because I grew up in that house; I have a lot of memories,” Ashley Tom, Charles’s daughter, told The Guardian. “It’s just a blessing to be in a better environment compared to Newtok, and I feel more safe over here since we’re on higher ground.”

“We hear these top people in power not thinking climate change is real just because where they live, they’re not seeing the effects right away,” Charles said. “Where we live, it’s impacting us really fast. We can see that it’s real, it’s bad, it’s hurting our environment.”


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Published on Jun 09, 2021