At any moment, on any school day, the entire future of the Quileute Tribe is at risk.
The Quileute tribal school is within a stone’s throw from the Pacific Ocean, which has been a source of life for the Quileute people since the beginning of time. The Quileutes regularly harvest fish and shellfish off the coast of northwest Washington, and their ancestors hunted whales and traveled in oceangoing canoes from Alaska to California for trade.
But the ocean is increasingly becoming a threat.
“To be standing in the schoolyard when there’s a high tide is intimidating,” says Susan Devine, project manager of the Quileute Tribe’s Move to Higher Ground/Tribal School Project.
“A tsunami would be catastrophic. People say that happens only once every 300 years on average. We’re well beyond the 300 years. Even bigger than that are the severe winter storms that happen several times a year—every year—which cause flooding and bring heavy debris into the schoolyard and impact the bulkhead in the marina.
“A tsunami is a big catastrophic event, but it’s all the other 100-year storms that are happening at a pace that’s never been experienced.”
Such stories are familiar throughout Indian Country, where cultures are tied to land and water. The Quileute Tribe plans to relocate the school and the rest of the tribal government to higher ground about 2.5 miles away, and construction of the new school has already begun.
Forty miles south along the Washington coast, the Quinault Nation is making similar plans. Ongoing risks of landslides in the capital of Taholah threaten to cut off reliable road access to police, fire, medical and other public services.
In Alaska, the Native communities of Akiak, Kivalina, and Shishmaref are relocating homes away from eroding coastlines and riverbanks.
Read the full article about Indigenous communities and climate change by Richard Arlin Walker at YES! Magazine.
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