Indigenous Peoples on the Front Lines of Climate Disaster

The Quileute Tribe in La Push, Washington has had to relocate government and other buildings due to rising sea levels. The area was already prone to storms and floods, which have been getting worse due to climate change.

And they are hardly the only tribe facing the effects of the climate crisis. While Quileute Tribal lands are being swept out into the ocean, other nations, such as the Akiak in Alaska, also need to relocate due to melting permafrost and “villages sinking in the tundra.”

These coastal tribes are having their heritage, homes, and livelihoods threatened alongside the human threats to wildlife and nature. “The wildlife – everything – is being impacted [by climate change]. We’re at ground zero,” Mike Williams Sr, Yup’ik, chief of the Akiak Native Community, said.

In addition, five Indigenous bands in Louisiana whose lands have been lost due to rising water levels, filed a complaint with the United Nations in 2020.

These tribes are now joined by the Quileutes who are making plans to relocate the Quileute Tribal School and other buildings to higher land. This is made possible by U.S. legislation that returned 280 acres of national park land to the Quileutes in 2012. However, this was originally land that Quileute tribes settled before European settlers invaded America. In 1859, the Quileute Tribe signed a treaty with the invaders that reduced their 800,000 acres to 443 acres of reservation land. This land and more should have always been under the control of the Quileutes and other Indigenous communities.

Furthermore, the Quileutes and other Indigenous peoples are not responsible for the climate catastrophe. The U.S. and other powerful world governments are to blame for not taking adequate actions to address climate change. Now, climate change is threatening ancestral homelands, sacred burial sites, and tribal heritages, health, lives, and livelihoods for the Quileute and other tribes.

While the U.S. Congress has approved their use of national park land for a new school, they will also need to relocate a senior center. As a matter of fact, the tribe’s 400 members could soon be out of houses, especially those currently located in a Lower Village near the waterfront that will remain because the tribe won’t be able to invest in moving every tribal member threatened by rising seas. Individuals will need to be able to secure their own shelter.

Why should Indigenous peoples have to wait for U.S. government approval to build a school? That government committed genocide against Indigenous tribes and stole their land. What right does it have to say what they do with it? And that government has continued to support the existence of giant fossil fuel companies that are at the heart of the climate crisis.

Private property and the capitalist state are to blame for both climate change and the lack of land at the disposal of the Quileutes. As climate change and rising sea levels continue to threaten the most vulnerable communities around the world, we have to fight together for our right to sustainable and resilient housing and communities. And we have to be ready and willing to fight first for the most vulnerable and oppressed communities under capitalist rule.