Climate change take center stage at AFN
As a walrus hunter and ivory carver, John Waghiyi has seen climate change affect his way of life in Savoonga.
“Sometimes it's only a one to two-week opportunity [to hunt walrus]. Then they're gone. In the old days, two months, easy,” Waghiyi said.
Subsistence hunting provides meat for his family. He transforms the ivory into carvings he can sell at the Alaska Federation of Natives (AFN) convention in Anchorage to supplement his income.
“It's the best avenue today for my family to be able to market it and have a customer base,” he explained.
The walrus season in Savoonga is not only shorter, hunters like Waghiyi have to go farther to find the animals. He’ll burn through up to 50 gallons of gas on one trip and the price of fuel is already three to four times higher in the village.
For Waghiyi, it’s a necessary cost of subsistence.
“We don't dare think about it in dollars and cents. We think about the spirituality and the gift of the resource and feeding our family,” he said.
National journalists are also weighing in on climate change. AFN hosted a panel on the topic on Friday afternoon.
Panelist and Rolling Stone magazine journalist Jeff Goodell traveled to Alaska when president Barack Obama visited Dillingham in 2015.
Goodell said the conversation needs to turn to action.
“We need a revolution. We don't need just talk, we don't need just empathy, we need people to make this why they vote and we need people in the streets,” Goodell said.
Communities around Alaska are plagued by visible climate change. Storms in Utqiagvik batter the unprotected shore. In Unalakleet, like Savoonga, the lack of sea ice makes subsistence hunting difficult.
Erosion is eating the coastlines of villages like Dillingham and Kivalina.
Stories from Alaska’s communities are now becoming cautionary tales for the rest of the world.
“If you're in a place that has a 10,000-year history, you look at the world differently,” said panelist Mark Trahant. “I think it's that indigenous knowledge that's so critical right now as we think about how climate change is going to disrupt the world and what we need to do next.”
Waghiyi said he’s glad to see the issue being discussed at AFN but also wants policies to change.
“I hope the power that be will listen very carefully because it is truly making an impact in everybody's lives.”
Lives and traditions that may be lost without intervention.