International Climate Justice Convening to Address Displacement of Indigenous Communities


Three-day conference will see more than 60 community leaders and advocates come together to develop a plan to address climate injustice facing Indigenous communities

GIRDWOOD, AK—More than 60 community leaders and advocates from across the world will gather in Girdwood, Alaska for a three-day conference to discuss the devastating impacts of climate change and agree upon a shared advocacy platform to address climate-forced displacement.

“The Convening brings together some of the first communities, who have done the least to contribute to our climate crisis and are losing the place they call home because of our collective failure to reduce greenhouse gases,” said Robin Bronen, executive director of the Alaska Institute for Justice, one of 13 non-governmental organizations (NGOs) attending the First People’s Convening on Climate-Forced Displacement from October 2-4 in Girdwood. “The Convening offers a tremendous opportunity for them to share their wisdom, strength, and courage and develop principles to guide our response for the millions who will be faced with this same existential threat.”

The Alaska contingent will represent 16 Alaska Native tribes. Others include civil society and community representatives from Bangladesh, several Pacific Island countries, and the states of Louisiana and Washington. Convening participants—most, if not all, of whom have experienced the impacts of climate change—will share experiences, build relationships, and develop strategies, including a shared declaration of principles that will guide future advocacy work. Cecilia Jimenez-Damary, Special Rapporteur on the Human Rights of Internally Displaced Persons for the United Nations Human Rights Office of the High Commissioner, is tentatively scheduled to participate in a special Skype session with attendees to discuss the impacts of climate-forced displacement.

Fenton Lutunatabua, Pacific regional coordinator for, a grassroots environmental advocacy organization in the Pacific Islands, will attend the convening with a contingent of seven Pacific island countries. He said that convenings like this are a prime opportunity to build a strong coalition to attack a global problem.

“Climate change really knows no bounds,” he said. “It continues to be a crisis that threatens the survival of Pacific Islands and the rest of the world. It’s important for everyone to get involved and see themselves as part of the solution. Gatherings like this, that bring together community leaders from around the world, not only reflect the diversity of this movement of people working towards solutions, but the true power of people coming together.”

“We have learned that by 2050, climate change will force the displacement of up to 200 million people. Two hundred million people,” said Unitarian Universalist Service Committee (UUSC) CEO and President Mary Katherine Morn. “Our hope in joining together with partners for this convening is to build relationships, identify common needs and goals, and provide a sacred and shared space where people who are most impacted by climate change will have the agency to determine their futures.”

Climate change impacts fall into two broad categories: rapid events (tornadoes, hurricanes, and floods) and slow-onset events (melting permafrost, erosion, and rising sea levels).
Since 2008, more than 25 million people have been displaced annually due to rapid climate change events; data on slow-onset events are much harder to quantify.

Compounding the climate change threat is the lack of funding and governance frameworks to address relocation efforts or the costs associated with the loss and damage communities experience. An equally important concern is the marginalization of the voices of the communities most impacted, the majority of whom are Indigenous peoples.

To learn more about climate change, climate-forced displacement, and the convening, visit

Throughout the world, UUSC and our partners advance human rights, dismantle systems of oppression, and uplift the inherent worth and dignity of all people through grassroots partnerships, leadership education, and advocacy.

Medical Interpreters in Outpatient Practice

Language Interpreter Center Program Director, Barb Jacobs, co-authored an article recently published in the Annals of Family Medicine. This article provides an overview of the federal requirements related to providing interpreter services for non-English-speaking patients in outpatient practice. Antidiscrimination provisions in federal law require health programs and clinicians receiving federal financial assistance to take reasonable steps to provide meaningful access to individuals with limited English proficiency who are eligible for or likely to be encountered in their health programs or activities.

To learn more, click here:

Scientists ‘shocked’ by massive snowfall increases among Alaska’s highest peaks


The sun sets on Denali on Dec. 28, 2016, in a view from Kincaid Park. (Erik Hill / ADN)


A team of scientists presented data on Tuesday suggesting that even as the state of Alaska has warmed up extremely rapidly in recent years, snowfall in the iconic Denali National Park has increased dramatically during the era of human-driven global warming.

The researchers from Dartmouth College; the University of Maine, Orono and the University of New Hampshire set up a camp at 13,000 feet atop Mount Hunter, within view of Denali. There, they drilled into the snow to extract lengthy cores of ice that provided a historical record of snowfall patterns going back more than 1,000 years – and found a marked change over the past 150 years or so.

To read the full article click here:

Murkowski introduces bill to study ocean acidification



Global warming is causing ocean water to become less like baking soda and more like milk, chemically speaking. It’s a phenomena called ocean acidification (OA) and it could have damaging effects for marine life.

A bill announced week by U.S. Sen. Lisa Murkowski seeks to study the effects OA would have on coastal communities. The Coastal Communities Ocean Acidification Act of 2017 would direct the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration to assess the vulnerability coastal communities have to ocean acidification. It was introduced in the senate on Dec. 14 and announced in a release by Murkowski’s office on Tuesday.

To read the full article click here:


As permafrost thaws, Western Alaska village cemeteries sink into swampland


As the permafrost thaws, Kongiganak’s cemetery is turning into swampland. (Teresa Cotsirilos / KYUK)


KONGIGANAK — On a crisp day in September, the village of Kongiganak, or Kong, filed into a little white church and laid Maggie Mary Otto to rest.
The service was crowded. An elder and de facto marriage counselor, Otto was beloved. She was the kind of person who cooked steaming plates of walrus for her community every January for Russian Orthodox Christmas – even though she wasn’t Orthodox herself.

After the viewing, Otto’s pallbearers carried her casket outside, placed it on a metal cart, and attached it to the back of a four-wheeler. Kong’s cemetery is a 10-minute drive on a boardwalk over marshy tundra. A procession of four-wheelers followed the casket to a rust-colored hill and a smattering of chalk-white crosses. Rather than lowering Otto’s body into the ground, pallbearers placed her casket on a low wooden platform, raised about 6 inches above the ground on blocks. A half-dozen men lifted a white, wooden box and placed it over her casket to protect it from the elements, covering it completely.

To read the full article click here:


Stretch of road in Southwest Alaska village falls into the sea


Port Heiden’s road to the safe harbor and old village was closed in November due to erosion. Photo taken Nov. 22, 2017. (Chasen Cunitz via KDLG)


Port Heiden on the Alaska Peninsula is losing shoreline quickly. Wind and waves have pushed the coast inland by an average of about 30 feet this year. Areas along the road from Port Heiden to the safe harbor and old village site lost roughly 17 feet in November. At the end of the month, the village closed the road because it is no longer safe to drive.

A crucial section of that road winds along a 12-foot bluff above the beach. It is a crust of dry land hemmed in by the bluff edge on one side and Goldfish Lake on the other.

“The road is basically gone. (Erosion)’s cut right half into the road,” said Scott Anderson, the Native Village pf Port Heiden’s tribal environmental director.

To read the full article click here:



Higher Ground: Protecting Human Rights as the Climate Crisis Forces Coastal Retreat

Human rights are the moral fibers woven throughout humanity and remind us that we each deserve to live lives of dignity. The right to be free from hunger, the right to housing, the right to safe drinking water, and the right to an adequate standard of living constitute the foundation upon which freedom, justice, and peace can flourish.


The Universal Declaration of Human Rights, adopted by the UN General Assembly in 1948, is the seminal document that articulates these inalienable rights to which all human beings are entitled. Since 1948, numerous international documents affirm the importance of human rights, including the International Covenant of Economic, Social and Cultural Rights and the Universal Declaration of the Rights of Indigenous Peoples. Governments do not bestow these rights upon us, but governments are required to promote, protect, and fulfill the human rights principles articulated in these documents. When human rights are violated, a tear occurs in our human tapestry and we must act to ensure that the violation stops and that rights are once again protected.


To read the whole article click here

Immigration Attorneys Warn Against Using The Term “Climate Refugee”


People walk among debris on the seashore in the aftermath of Hurricane Maria in Punta Cana, Dominican Republic, September 21, 2017. 


With so much destruction from this season’s hurricanes in the Caribbean, there are going to be a lot of people on the move — looking to start their lives in new places. We’ve already seen mass movements of people from areas plagued by drought, floods or storms. Many casually refer to these people as “climate refugees.”


But the problem with the term climate refugee starts with the word “refugee.”


“The term refugee has some very serious legal consequences, and it’s a very rigid legal definition. It’s usually an individual determination based on a person’s fear of persecution,” explains Mara Kimmel, an immigration attorney in Anchorage, Alaska.


The legal definition of refugee goes back to the years following World War II when the United Nations defined a refugee as an individual outside of his or her own country, someone who can’t return because of a well-founded fear of persecution due to race, religion, nationality, political opinion or membership in a social group.


“I don’t think that’s necessarily translatable to a situation where whole communities are being forced to flee and to relocate because of climate change,” says Kimmel.


To read the whole article click here

We Will Protect The Human Rights Of ‘Dreamers’

Ana Lavagnino, center, who said she is a daughter of an immigrant, shows her support for DACA (Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals) during a rally in Anchorage on Tuesday, Sept. 5, 2017, in the wake of President Trump’s announcement to end protection for hundreds of thousands of “dreamers,” children who were brought to the U.S. and have been living here illegally. (Bill Roth / Alaska Dispatch News)


President Donald Trump’s decision to rescind the program for immigrant youth is devastating for Alaskans.
I work as the executive director of the Alaska Institute for Justice. We are the only nonprofit in Alaska dedicated to protecting the human rights of all Alaskans that provides free and low-cost immigration legal services.

Since President Barack Obama created the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program in 2012, our office has represented dozens of young people seeking the basic documents that allow them to come out of the shadows of our community.  DACA allowed these youth to acquire temporary permission to be in the United States.

With this immigration process they could, for the first time, get authorization to work, Social Security numbers and drivers licenses. Some are parents, grandchildren, and siblings of United States citizens.

They came to the United States from Israel, Russia, Samoa, El Salvador, Guatemala, Honduras and Mexico. They are university students, business owners, disabled, hard workers and just wanting the opportunity to pursue their future dreams. They are us.

To read the whole article click here

Many Native Communities Are Being Forced to Relocate Due to Climate Change

Globally, the twenty-first century has seen 16 of the hottest 17 years on record. In the Pacific Northwest, average air temperatures, which rose only 1.3 degrees Fahrenheit between 1895 and 2014, are expected to increase another 3 to 9 degrees Fahrenheit by 2100. Heavy rainfall events have increased in frequency, snowfall has decreased, and glaciers have pulled back, retreating deep into Washington’s mountains. The Anderson Glacier, for example, which historically fed the Quinault River, shrank by 90 percent between 1927 and 2009. And as overall precipitation decreases and glaciers shrink, stream flows are also declining.

“One of the critical components to creating this relocation institutional framework is to design a community-based monitoring and assessment tool with state and federal government agencies,” Bronen says.

Such a tool would help ensure that, before disaster strikes, people are able to determine whether relocation is necessary, and when. Bronen expects the model will be replicable in service of communities across the world. That’s a tall order. “We are creating something that doesn’t exist anywhere in the world, so it’s just really hard,” she says.

To read the whole article click here

The Alaskan village of Kivalina (image: Shorezone/Flickr)