The lagoon side of Shishmaref. In the distance lies Ear Mountain, one of the possible relocation sites for Shishmaref. The cracked concrete, seen in the foreground, is the remains of an old airstrip that runs into the lagoon. Children play here now.
On the Serpentine River, Nora Iyatunguk shows her sons, Kenny and Corben, where animals are located for hunting. In Shishmaref, hunting requires focus and a keen eye, as the wildlife in the surrounding tundra know how to hide.
Johnny 'Mimic' Pootoogooluk prepares for a nighttime hunt. A few weeks ago, he and some friends ran out of fuel; they were stranded in Serpentines. Hunting is only permitted for self-sufficiency among the local Inuits. If more animals are hunted than can be used, meat is given to the elders or to the poor who cannot afford to hunt.
Family photos line the walls in Clifford Weyiouanna's home. During his childhood, the village consisted of over 200 residents and 300 sled dogs. Shishmaref is famous for gloves, hats, and slippers made from seal and bearskin. These crafts are sold for high prices in Eskimo souvenir shops in Nome.
Lena Weyiouanna's children have moved away to Nome and Anchorage. She lives in Shishmaref with her granddaughter in a house built by her father. Lena used to work as a secretary for the local airlines.
Thomas Pootoogooluk, 23, plays Eskimo baseball at the traditional wellness picnic organized by the town council to raise awareness about suicide prevention among the youth. Thomas occasionally works at the local store and wants to stay in Shishmaref, but he is concerned about the increasingly powerful storms.
Emily and Ray Charles Weyiouanna battle in a videogame, a favorite pastime for many children and youth in Shishmaref. Emily works as an administrator for the local Dog Mushers Association. Her salary allows her to take care of her parents and her son Keith, who is shown in the far right.
Harvey 'Morshik' Tocktoo throws an Inuit harpoon at the traditional wellness picnic. The sun shines 24 hours a day in summer and two-and-a-half hours in winter. The youth enjoy competing against each other at various events.
Inez Mildred Elliot babysits her cousin Sonny and her sister Claire. Inez moved back to Shishmaref a year ago after living in Mexico for six years with her father. She was grateful at first to be back, but recently her feelings have changed. She cannot see a future to her life in Shishmaref, she says, and wonders what life would be like on the other side of the world.
This is the last house on the east side of the island. It resists waves and erosion due to an embankment and sea wall. The owner is concerned about the devastation of future storms. Several neighbors recently lost their homes during fierce storms while others have relocated their homes further inland.
Edward Ollana, age 58, looks out the window with his daughter, Ruth Pianna, on his lap. Ten years ago, his brother Ray Charles committed suicide in this house due to problems with alcoholism. Ruth, his sixth child, will be his last. Unemployed with six children, he has trouble paying his bills, including his electricity, which has been cut off for six months.
Elisabeth Nayokpuk and her great-granddaughter, also named Elisabeth, stand in their living room surrounded by family photos. Her late husband, Herbie Nayokpuk, was one of Alaska's most beloved dog mushers and was known as the "Shishmaref Cannonball." He competed numerous times in the famous Iditarod Sled Dog Race.
Clifford Weyiouanna, age 70, sits in his bedroom with one of his sixteen hunting rifles. He is a former pilot and avid hunter and is one of the community's most popular members. Known for his hospitality, Clifford invites every visitor to the island to his home for coffee, sourdough hotcakes, and fried eggs.
This seawall was built with stones brought by the Army from a quarry over 900 miles away. Without the seawall, life in Shishmaref wouldn't be possible. High tides and storms could easily flood the island as the highest point is only six meters above sea level.
Residents rely heavily on a subsistence lifestyle—hunting and gathering much of their food. Primary food sources include: oogruk (bearded seal), seal, walrus, fish, birds, caribou, and moose. The village is well known in the region for its high-quality seal oil and fermented meat.
Dealno Barr and Warren Ningeulook clean freshly caught salmon. Their grandson Raymond helps carry the haul from the boat. Salmon is an important source for subsistence, providing fresh fish in the summer and dried fish during the winter.
Percy Nayokpuk fills his underground cooler with ice to create a natural freezer in the permafrost. The freezer is used to store meat and fish for his sled dogs. With rising temperatures, the permafrost softens deeper than it used to, which also accelerates coastal erosion due to storm waves.
Shelton Kokeok looks through his window at the eroded shoreline. His home is the last one on this part of the island, which is still resisting erosion. Nine years ago, he moved his home 100 feet inland, but the erosion has progressed greatly since then. He doesn't have the resources to move again.
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The village of Shishmaref, inhabited for 400 years, is located on a small barrier island in the Chukchi Sea in northwestern Alaska. Home to a modern Inupiaq community, Shishmaref is on the front lines of climate change. The island, approximately a quarter mile wide and 3 miles in length, is facing evacuation due to erosion, increasingly powerful storms, and the thawing of permafrost. To feed their families, residents rely on a lifestyle of subsistence hunting, fishing, and gathering.
The village suffers from a growing generational divide. Younger members of the community dream of leaving the island in search of jobs and a new life; they would leave behind centuries-old traditions. In 2002, the island's inhabitants voted to move the community to the mainland, officially making them the world's first climate refugees. As of 2016, very little progress has been made and the government has yet to provide the necessary funds to relocate the village.