Aerial view of Kivalina (Image: Re-Locate project)
Constructing new visions of climate change and indigenous rights in Alaska
Kivalina is an indigenous whaling community situated off the northwestern coast of Alaska. Like many coastal communities, Kivalina’s future is under threat from rising sea levels and coastal erosion. The U.S. government has ordered the village to relocate to higher ground within ten years with the community covering the majority of the costs. As part of their struggle, the community of Kivalina has pressed charges against the twenty-three largest oil and gas companies, including Exxon Mobile, Shell and BP, for the emission of green house gases contributing to climate change and the loss of their natural environment.
Environmental and human rights issues in the Arctic cut across political, legal, economic, and social realms. Yet this complex relationship has never been visualized in a legible format that is accessible to the indigenous peoples of Alaska. Graphs, statistics, and legal texts all abstract the ways in which the challenges facing Native communities have been represented and have resulted in a stalemate in which knowledge has been partial and unequally distributed amongst stakeholders.
The Modelling Kivalina project aims to create a physical model of the community in order to illustrate the complex legal and political relationships at play. The purpose of the physical model is to reverse-engineer this contested territory in order to identify and interrogate the different environmental issues, such as battles over fresh water and chemical waste, in relationship to the varying institutional and legal protocols operative in this landscape.