David Katzeek holds up a photo of a sun blanket at Northern Light United Church in Juneau during the “Climate Change Through the Eyes of Alaska Natives” forum on Sept. 12, 2019. (Peter Segall | Juneau Empire)

David Katzeek holds up a photo of a sun blanket at Northern Light United Church in Juneau during the “Climate Change Through the Eyes of Alaska Natives” forum on Sept. 12, 2019. (Peter Segall | Juneau Empire)

‘Things are shifting’: Five Alaska Natives tell their stories about climate change

Spoiler alert: they’re very concerned.

Five Alaska Native leaders shared their thoughts and experiences on climate change in Alaska and abroad beneath the vaulted ceilings of Northern Light United Church in downtown Juneau Thursday evening.

“In my life of 50 years, I have seen changes,” said Melanie Brown, a Yupik leader and commercial fisherman told the crowd.

Brown spent her summers in Bristol Bay where her mother is from and she returns there yearly to fish with her family.

“Things are shifting,” she said.

Brown said that the cyclical patterns of nature she’d observed growing up, which for years had remained fairly consistent, had begun to change.

“You can harvest blueberries in July, now,” she said, something she attributed to the warmer weather.

Melanie Brown speaks at Northern Light United Church in Juneau during the “Climate Change Through the Eyes of Alaska Natives,” forum on Sept. 12, 2019. (Peter Segall | Juneau Empire)

Melanie Brown speaks at Northern Light United Church in Juneau during the “Climate Change Through the Eyes of Alaska Natives,” forum on Sept. 12, 2019. (Peter Segall | Juneau Empire)

This July was Alaska’s hottest on record, according to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.

In a similar vein, Heather Evoy, a Tsimshian and Tlingit leader from Ketchikan, talked about how one of her favorite childhood memories was collecting shellfish with her grandmother.

But due to ocean acidification, this was something she worried she wasn’t going to be able to share with her 9-year-old son.

Lower pH levels in ocean water make it difficult for shellfish to properly form their shells, an issue which could have profound implications on Alaska’s seafood industry, according to the Alaska Ocean Acidification Network.

Each of the five speakers shared how they had seen the environment change in Alaska throughout their lives, often in ways which were threatening to traditional Native practices. The speakers who addressed the audience were, Rev. Charles Brower, Brown, Evoy, David Katzeek and Ilarion “Larry” Merculieff.

Rev. Charles Bower speaks at Northern Light United Church in Juneau during the “Climate Change Through the Eyes of Alaska Natives,” forum on Sept. 12, 2019. (Peter Segall | Juneau Empire)

Rev. Charles Bower speaks at Northern Light United Church in Juneau during the “Climate Change Through the Eyes of Alaska Natives,” forum on Sept. 12, 2019. (Peter Segall | Juneau Empire)

Brower, an Inupiaq elder from Barrow and professional whaler, showed the audience pictures of 12-foot deep holes dug into the ground traditionally used for food storage.

“Now you can find water at the bottom of some of the pits,” he said. “If someone hadn’t come to check on the food it would have spoiled.”

The speakers were brought together by Alaska Interfaith Power and Light (AIPL), the local affiliate of an a environmentally focused religious nonprofit based in Oakland, California.

AIPL has been hosting a number of climate change-themed events in Juneau over the week, as have a number of other environmental organizations.

The week of activism is meant to coincide with the International Forum of Sovereign Wealth Funds taking place this week at Centennial Hall. That forum is being hosted this year by the Alaska Permanent Fund Corporation. Sovereign wealth funds are state-owned investment funds similar to the Alaska Permanent Fund. Like Alaska, many of those nation’s funds have significant investments in fossil fuels.

[Gov says warming Arctic could be good for Alaska]

Katzeek, who teaches Tlingit language and culture to students in the Juneau school district as well as at the University of Alaska Southeast, began his speech in Lingít, the Tlingit language, before switching to English.

“What you’re hearing from me is not any kind of special wisdom because I’ve been here,” David Katzeek said “It’s what my grandparents told me.”

He told the crowd that climate change was the result of egotistical thinking on the part of those in society who felt that they owned and had the right to do what they pleased with the planet.

“All the stuff that’s happening out there is the result of egotistical thinking, regardless of the color of your skin, the language you speak. It has its consequences,” Katzeek said.

Last to speak was Ilarion “Larry” Merculieff. Merculieff was the first Alaska Native commissioner of the Alaska Department of Commerce and Economic Development. He has served, either currently or previously, in a leadership capacity in a number of other organizations.

Merculieff said that in his Unangan culture, people didn’t view themselves as apart or distinct from the natural world. They didn’t consider themselves any higher or lower than any other animal. It was when people started to see themselves as above animals that “they lost their way,” he said.

“Mother Earth’s life-support systems are coming to the edge, we’ve got very little time left,” Merculieff said. “This is the generation that’s going to decide if human beings are going to be here. That’s quite a responsibility.”

Check out the Empire’s live coverage here.


• Contact reporter Peter Segall at 523-2228 or psegall@juneauempire.com.


More in News

Folks at the Alaska State Capitol openly admit to plenty of fish tales, but to a large degree in ways intended to benefit residents and sometimes even the fish. (Mark Sabbatini / Juneau Empire)
The bizarre bills other state legislatures are considering

Alaska’s Legislature isn’t mulling the headline-grabbers some statehouses have in the works.

This photo shows snow-covered hills in the Porcupine River Tundra in the Yukon Territories, Canada. In July 1997, a hunter contacted troopers in Fairbanks, Alaska, and reported finding a human skull along the Porcupine River, around 8 miles (13 kilometers) from the Canadian border. Investigators used genetic genealogy to help identify the remains as those of Gary Frank Sotherden, according to a statement Thursday, Feb. 2, 2023, from Alaska State Troopers. (AP Photo / Rick Bowmer)
Skull found in ‘97 in Interior belongs to New York man

A skull found in a remote part of Alaska’s Interior in 1997… Continue reading

(Michael Penn / Juneau Empire File)
Police calls for Saturday, Feb. 4, 2023

This report contains information from law enforcement and public safety agencies.

Officer William Hicks stands with JPD Chief Ed Mercer and Deputy Chief David Campbell during a swearing in ceremony for Hicks on Thursday at the JPD station in Lemon Creek. (Jonson Kuhn / Juneau Empire)
New officer joins JPD’s ranks

The Juneau Police Department welcomed a new officer to its ranks Thursday… Continue reading

These photos show Nova, a 3-year-old golden retriever, and the illegally placed body hold trap, commonly referred to as a Conibear trap, that caught her while walking near Outer Point Trail last week. (Courtesy / Jessica Davis)
Dog narrowly survives rare illegally placed trap in Juneau

State wildlife officials outlined what to do if found in similar situation

Gavel (Courtesy photo)
Public defender agency to refuse some cases, citing staffing

ANCHORAGE — A state agency that represents Alaskans who cannot afford their… Continue reading

(Michael Penn / Juneau Empire File)
Police: Gift card scam connected to hoax Fred Meyer threats

This article has been moved in front of the Empire’s paywall. A… Continue reading

This is a concept design drawing that was included in the request for proposal sent out by the Alaska Department of Transportation and Public Facilities seeking outside engineering and design services to determine whether it’s feasible to build a new ferry terminal facility in Juneau at Cascade Point. (Alaska Department of Transportation and Public Facilities)
DOT takes steps toward potential Cascade Point ferry terminal facility

It would accommodate the Tazlina and or Hubbard, shorten trips to Haines and Skagway

(Michael Penn / Juneau Empire File)
Police calls for Friday, Feb. 3, 2023

This report contains information from law enforcement and public safety agencies.

Most Read