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A Trusted Friend in a Complicated World

Kivalina, Alaska: A Disappearing Town

At the tip of a barrier island 80 miles above the Arctic Circle, the town of Kivalina, Alaska, is melting into the sea because of climate change, meaning locals will have to move. In 2008 the Village filed a lawsuit against major U.S. energy companies. Meanwhile, life looks a little like this.

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Welcome to Kivalina

Whale ribs and whaling boat create a kind of “Welcome to Kivalina!” sign at the edge of town.

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The spring melt

Kids take advantage of the spring melt to break out their bikes. Elders point out that the puddles drain much faster now that the permafrost beneath is receding.

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Manmade resources

An attempt at forestalling the erosion of the edge of town included large plastic bags filled with sand and gravel. It began to degrade at the first major storm.

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Hunting amid destruction

A young man walks out onto the warming ice to take a chance shot at geese with a .22. Rising temperatures and melting ice mean less protection from the ocean’s destruction.

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Less to eat

A catch of fish and seal fat chill in a snow bank. Less ice means harder hunting—the last time anyone in Kivalina got a whale was in 1994.

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From the past

A whale vertebra found on the beach will be carved into a salable artifact by village artist Russell Adams.

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Drying caribou

Caribou meat cut from a carcass stashed in a snow bank over the winter is hung to dry. Unfortunately for the owner, the next day it was gone, snatched by stray dogs.

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Food for survival

Dried caribou meat is put out for guests and family. Inupiat survive mostly on seal, whale, fish, and caribou.

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Resident: Jerry Norton

Jerry Norton is one of the village’s oldest and most skilled hunters. His ancestors taught him about the “five kinds of ice.”

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Resident: Lucy Adams

Lucy Adams is 75. She came to Kivalina—along with her parents and 6 of her 11 siblings—from Point Lay, 150 miles to the north, by dogsled and skin boat in 1943. “My dad supported us by hunting and trapping and selling furs,” she says.

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Resident: Enoch Adams, Jr.

Enoch Adams, Jr. is the son of Lucy Adams. He has served at various times as a vice mayor, a city councilman, and a member of the relocation-planning committee.

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Resident: Russell Adams, Sr.

Russell Adams, Sr., just installed a new washer in the living room. There is no running water, so they use garbage cans to collect and reuse what they have.

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Village cemetery

The village cemetery lies alongside the gravel air strip. The Inupiat have lived along this coast for hundreds or thousands of years.

Reader's Digest
Originally Published in Reader's Digest