My name is Steven Holley. I am an Alaskan Native. In 1986, I was born in south central Alaska, in my village of Tyonek. Since November 1986, many things have changed in my environment. Buildings are bigger, in my generation my people have become more connected to the outside world with the internet; digital machines are thoroughly integrated in my Native life, and today is warmer than yesterday. I am not a meteorologist. I didn’t go to a school to develop the ability to monitor data on the weather and interpret what it is doing. I grew up watching the climate to gauge my day’s activities, and steady day-by-day observation to understand how this year has changed from last year. To stand on the bluffs of my home and feel a wind from the east and slightly from the north means it’s a Turnagain Arm wind, a strong wind that creates rough waters. This means don’t leave your fishing net in the inlet, because the rough waters can tangle and tear it up. A smooth beach in the morning indicates rough waters over the night. Low clouds means precipitation in the air wants to be let out onto the land. This is valuable information to know, since water from the sky (snow or rain) creates different settings. I learned these things from my family and our interaction with the land that our people have known since we first came to these lands all those thousands of years ago.
It’s January 7, 2013 Russian Christmas, and my auntie is talking about the ice flow that is sort of dirty and snowy on top and flows close to the beach. These chunks of ice usually come from the river or up by the flats north of my village, but we usually don’t see them flowing till spring. Something has changed.
10 years ago, I heard about man-made climate change. At the time, Elders were talking about how all these experts were worried about something that has happened over and over throughout their time. But now, it seems we are seeing occurrences that exceed the past natural cycles of what we remember. Melting glaciers, rising sea levels, and flooding of coastal communities have already forced the villages of Shishmaref, Kivalina, and Newtok to begin relocation plans, and the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers has identified over 160 of 200+ additional rural communities threatened by erosion.
The loss of sea-ice cover has changed the habitat for our arctic species and leaves coastal communities more exposed to larger waves generated by severe storms. The thawing permafrost, increased storm severity, and related infrastructure damage to roads, utility infrastructure, pipelines, and buildings. The extremes in weather patterns, precipitation, and rising sea levels are expected to affect safe water sources in villages, and also contribute to increased erosion along Alaska coasts and rivers and undermines Alaska boreal forests. The warming is allowing boreal forests to advance northward and to higher elevations, displacing tundra. Our subsistence way of life is becoming more and more of a challenge as animal habitat and migration patterns shift, and as our hunting and fishing activities become more dangerous with changing landscapes and sea and river ice affecting our ability to gather our nutrient sources. Warming streams and increased silt from melting glaciers affect fish habitat, invasive species compete with native vegetation, forest fire activity, and insect infestations are increasing in frequency and intensity. In the past decade, Alaska has witnessed a record loss of forests to fires and spruce bark beetles. We have always had the spruce bark beetles, but the warmer weather seems to be helping them to infest more areas. All this has been happening as I grew up, and has continued and gotten more intense as my years have progressed.
I am not an expert to tell you about the data that satellites and SAR cameras and sensors around the world have collected. I am just your average Dena’ina Athabascan that has lived in the sub-arctic their whole life, with an extensive network of friends and family that live throughout Alaska. My expertise comes from extensive knowledge brought on while working with Alaskan Native lands and leadership development. In all my 26 years of finding the facts of Alaskan life, I have found many interesting facts. One in particular is important and is the reasoning for this website to exist. The climate is changing, and it is changing the life my people and I have always known.