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Although climate change has left some Alaska Native communities just a storm away from destruction, the struggle to get help from government agencies is just as daunting, as Rhonda McBride from our flagship station KNBA reports.
An international human rights group hopes to change that.
The Organization of American States is coming to Alaska this week to hear directly from tribes.
Salote Soqo (I-Taukei) oversees a branch of the OAS that advocates for Indigenous peoples, displaced by climate change.
She says her mission is to make sure tribes have a say in what happens and are treated with dignity.
“There’s a lot of commonalities around the issues that they’re experiencing. They are on the front lines of the climate crisis. They’ve been exposed to years and years of government neglect.”
While state and federal governments do respond to disasters caused by climate change, Soqo says their efforts fall short of helping communities make a long-term recovery or adapt to the threats.
The OAS has partnered with groups like the Alaska Institute for Justice to increase funding and improve government response.
The Institute’s director, Robin Bronen calls the climate crisis one of the greatest human rights challenges of our time.
Yet despite that, she says government efforts are scattered across too many agencies, with no real structure in place to address problems in a systematic way.
“There is an urgency to the climate crisis that the government is struggling to respond to. And our hope is, with this visit, that it will elevate this issue, so that communities all over the United States and especially in Alaska, get the resources that they need to implement their adaptation strategies.”
Bronen says it will take hundreds of millions of dollars to help communities move to safety or recover from disasters. But for Indigenous peoples, there are also cultural, economic, and social impacts that can be equally devastating.
The OAS’s Inter-American Commission on Human Rights will visit two communities on Thursday – Nunapitchuk on the Kuskokwim River and Kwigillingok on the Bering Sea coast.
On Friday, it heads to Kivalina, a barrier island on the Chukchi Sea.
All three communities plan to move to higher ground.
The commission started the week in Louisiana, where it met with several tribes, which are also being forced to relocate due to climate change.
The Yurok Tribal Council has issued an emergency declaration in response to the fentanyl crisis on and near the Yurok reservation in California.
The declaration directs the Yurok Tribal Court and Yurok Public Health Department to oversee the tribe’s response to the crisis.
According to the tribe, in the last 12 months, fentanyl has taken the lives of Yurok citizens and is impacting families.
Earlier this spring, Yurok law enforcement and justice officials discussed the fentanyl crisis during a legislative roundtable at the State Capitol in Sacramento.
Chief Judge Abby Abinanti with the Yurok Tribal Court told lawmakers there needs to be partnerships and more assistance from the state.
“We cannot ignore this. We need to be in partnerships with our natural partners, law enforcement, it means health services, it means we need mobile clinics in rural areas, we need regional treatment centers not treatment centers we have to go hundreds of miles to that may not have room for us. This is not right. This is a state that can do better and needs to do better.”
The Yurok Tribal Council has also made it mandatory for all tribal government staff to be trained in giving Narcan, which can reverse effects of an opioid overdose.
Fentanyl is a potent synthetic opioid, which is said to be 50 times stronger than heroin.
The tribal declaration also includes xylazine, which is a sedative used on animals.
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