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Feds grant $75 million to move 3 Native tribes away from rising seas

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Schoolchildren walk beside severe erosion of the permafrost tundra next to their school at the climate change affected Yupik Eskimo village of Napakiak on the Yukon Delta in Alaska on April 18, 2019.

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The Department of the Interior under the Biden administration is providing three Native American tribes $75 million to relocate from coastal areas at risk of destruction, a decision that comes after tribes across the country competed for the first federal grants designed to relocate communities facing climate change threats.

The Newtok Village and Native Village of Napakiak in Alaska, as well as the Quinault Indian Nation in Washington state, will each receive $25 million to begin relocating buildings inland and away from rising seas. The administration is also awarding $5 million grants to eight more tribes to help them plan for relocation.

Historically oppressed and disenfranchised tribal groups across the U.S. are more exposed to the effects of climate change. Research published in the journal Science found that tribal nations have lost 99% of their historic territory and the land they were left is typically more vulnerable to climate-related disasters like heat waves, wildfires and drought.

The federal government is now beginning to relocate entire Native communities in order to adapt to climate change and minimize the damage from future climate-related disasters. A Bureau of Indian Affairs study from 2020 estimated that up to $5 billion will be required over the next 50 years to address tribal relocation infrastructure needs as the climate changes.

Department of the Interior Secretary Deb Haaland delivers opening remarks at the 2022 White House Tribal Nations Summit at the Department of the Interior on November 30, 2022 in Washington, DC.

Pete Marovich | Getty Images

“We must safeguard Indian Country from the intensifying and unique impacts of climate change,” Interior Secretary Deb Haaland said in a statement. “Helping these communities move to safety on their homelands is one of the most important climate related investments we could make in Indian Country.”

The administration¬†announced the awards during this year’s White House Tribal Nations Summit. Earlier this year, the Bureau of Indian Affairs hosted a competition in which tribes applied for up to $3 million in relocation funds.

Tribes in Alaska are especially at risk of infrastructure damage due to encroaching waters, coastal erosion and extreme weather events, the Interior said.

The administration’s smaller planning grants were awarded to tribes including the Native Village of Point Lay in Alaska, the Yurok Tribe in California and the Chitimacha Tribe in Louisiana.

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