3 min read

Tuluksak, Alaska is in crisis

After a mid-winter fire, the Tuluksak Native Community has lost its only water source. Supplies are running low. Here's how to help.

We are in a climate emergency. And you were born at just the right moment to help change everything.

Subscribe to The Phoenix to support independent climate journalism at a critical moment in history.

Subscribe now

Native Alaskans are on the front lines of climate change, with warming accelerating rapidly over the past ten years. During the pandemic, Native Americans have died at a rate 3.5 times that of white people. In a year filled with trauma, Native people are bearing more than their fair share.

On top of all that, this is what the people of Tuluksak, Alaska woke up to last weekend:

The laundromat also housed the entire village’s water supply infrastructure.

The Tuluksak Native Community, a federally recognized tribe of 373 people located along the banks of the Kuskokwim River 100 miles from the Bering Sea in western Alaska, is now enduring this emergency essentially cut off from the outside world.

According to Alaska Public Media, it could take months to repair or replace the water treatment plant. They need help, immediately.

I spoke with Kristy Napoka, the Secretary-Treasurer of the Tuluksak Native Community by proxy through CeeJay Johnson, an Alaska Native based in southern California who is helping coordinate relief supplies not only for Tuluksak, but for other Native communities statewide currently being ravaged by Covid-19 and the climate emergency.

Johnson said Napoka described the current conditions with almost unimaginably dire language.

One third of their community have tested postive for COVID (5 more residents today)... they don't have water, they have no medical staff/nurses... and the nearest advanced medical care is 500+ miles away and only accessible by plane.... but planes can't land because the man who plows their runway was medevaced to Anchorage with COVID complications.

Full disclosure: When I heard this story, I couldn’t help but get personally involved and tweeted the community’s request for legal help in drafting an Emergency Declaration to request immediate help from the Alaska National Guard. Within an hour of the request, a lawyer had volunteered to help the tribe, but as of this writing, they have still received no federal help.

They also shared these pictures:

The average high temperature this time of year in Tuluksak is just 15°F (-10°C), but weather this week has been much warmer than that, making travel along the ice road that normally operates on the frozen Kuskokwim River even more dangerous than normal. On New Years Day, two men drown in the river near Tuluksak after their snowmobiles plunged into an unmarked open hole.

Napoka said for the time being they're having to haul river ice from the Kuskokwim river over a mile away from their village in freezing temps. That water is unsafe to drink, but they have no other reliable option.

Johnson says that the community has tried their best to clear the runway, and managed to get a plane in this weekend.

It cost us $1,000 to fly in $100 worth of water and they don't have much left. Their underground water and river are contaminated by a nearby mine and makes them sick when they drink it... but some have no choice but to drink it.

After a week without water, the tribe received its first outside help, funded by private donations that Johnson helped coordinate.

We finally got a plane in yesterday with a pallet of water that they distributed to the homes with elders and infants drinking bottles. But COVID is spreading, people are getting sick and it's gotten harder to get someone to clear the runway.

Napoka and her family were some of the first to receive water.

Life in western Alaska was already hard before this. Bethel, the nearest city to Tuluksak, has been “impossibly warm” over the past few years, disrupting regular life. River drownings, like the one that happened in Tuluksak, have been on the rise. Melting permafrost has been transforming the Kuskokwim River, likely permanently. Erosion, flooding, storms, fires, drought, shifts in wildlife, are all happening at rates that make the elders in the community worry.

If you want to help the Tuluksak Native Community and others like it across Alaska, please consider contributing to the GoFundMe that Johnson has set up on their behalf.

This is a moment when those of us with resources to spare should help those of us who need a little extra. That is solidarity. That is mutual aid. And that is how we will not only end the climate emergency, we will build a better world than we can dare to imagine.

Subscribe now