Chasing Alaska

Whaling captain Isaac Killigvuk out hunting seals in Point Lay, Alaska in 2015. Photo by Katie Orlinsky.

Katie Orlinsky and Alaskan photographers Ash Adams and Brian Adams led a unique workshop about photography, visual storytelling and social media for the residents of the 500-person Alaska Native village of Shishmaref. The entire village will have to relocate because of erosion caused by climate change, but the reality on the ground is much more complicated. Katie is both concerned for the residents of Shishmaref, and in awe of their resilience. “How do you move a village that has been so tied to their traditional land?” Katie asks. “Do the relocation sites make sense for this kind of isolated community? It is so complicated. It is so new.”

Photo by Dennis Davis/@eskimofixer. A bird’s eye (aka drone) view of #Shishmaref Alaska. @chasingak

“Alaska is warming faster than any place in the world,” Orlinsky says. Her work, however, does not only focus on environmental impacts, but on the creative and adaptive solutions that Alaskan communities must enact in order to survive.

Alaska Native groups are especially vulnerable to the rapidly changing climate. Rural villages in Alaska are some of the poorest communities in the U.S. In Shishmaref, residents do not have potable running water or flush toilets, yet they pay some of the highest prices for food and fuel in the country. As a result, communities like Shishmaref depend on hunting and fishing for their survival, as they have done for centuries.

The Alaskan Native communities have a deep understanding of the animals, like the whales, fish, polar bears and caribou and have seen their numbers decline.

Traditional knowledge accumulated over centuries of close observations of the land, water and animals is a tremendous asset. Fortunately for all of us, that knowledge, combined with their new local observations provide a framework and link with western science to develop strategies to adapt to widespread impacts of receding sea ice, shrinking glaciers, thawing permafrost, and rising ocean temperatures.

Whale bones in Point Hope, Alaska in 2015. Photo by Katie Orlinsky.

“Knowledge and experience is so precious,” Katie says. “The things that the people know about the earth and animals are really important to watch how they deal with and learn how to adapt. What communities like Shishmaref are facing now is going to happen everywhere, all over the world, within the next few decades. I think documenting and sharing their reality, daily life and perspective is so important. I’ve been photographing it for almost two years, and folks in the communities are also doing it themselves. I’ll see their incredible photos on Facebook, or meet someone new and they immediately show me their photos on their phone, so we want to just work with this and help get these images out there.

Katie, Ash and Brian’s workshop ended this weekend, but with the help of Shishmaref resident Dennis Davis, they will continue to post on @chasingak Instagram and Facebook page. Here are a few gems from the workshop ….